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Doc Talk Sports physicals – more than a quick checklist item

  • Published Tuesday, May 13, 2014, at 7:09 a.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, May 13, 2014, at 7:11 a.m.

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Some people view the pre-participation physical evaluation (PPE), also known as the sports physical, as just a hoop to jump through to ensure their child is prepared to start practicing for fall sports.

But the exam is actually an opportunity – often the only opportunity all year – to ensure your child is free of disease and healthy enough for strenuous activity. Having the appointment at a clinic or walk-in location may be a convenient way to fulfill the requirements of the Kansas State High School Activities Association (KSHSAA), but it’s not the best option.

The best way to ensure your child gets the screening and care he or she needs is to have a thorough annual physical with your primary care provider (PCP) — the doctor who knows your child, has access to his or her medical history and has a rapport with your family.

The primary goal of the PPE is to obtain medical clearance by detecting or ruling out medical conditions that may predispose a child to injury, or that may be life threatening or disabling, specifically for the heart. Unless there is an obvious symptom, most athletes will breeze through a quick PPE at a walk-in clinic. Your PCP is aware of your child’s complete medical history; therefore it is best for that physician to perform the physical so potential problems do not get overlooked.

The American Heart Association’s (AHA) screening guidelines have specific questions and elements in a physical exam to help doctors understand if a child is at cardiac risk. The AHA recommends that the PPE be performed by a physician who is knowledgeable about cardiovascular disease. Your child’s PCP is preferable because he or she has access to your child’s records, is more familiar with your family’s medical history and can review your child’s overall growth and development.

In addition to evaluating the patient’s physical condition, the PCP’s annual examination includes verifying immunizations are current; screening for familial medical conditions, such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure; and looking at growth and development to see whether the child is progressing through puberty as he or she should. Your doctor can look at behaviors, including eating disorders, and determine whether there is a medical reason for the concern. The primary physician is also in a position of being able to track health and arrange for follow-up care.

In addition to the PPE, remember to schedule an annual eye exam with an optometrist. Eye health is about more than just good vision.

Adam Goodwin is a family medicine physician with Via Christi Clinic.

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