Before your child can take the field or hit the courts, their doctor must give the all-clear for them to play. Since the sports physical is a pre-requisite to organized activity, you may be tempted to skip your child’s annual well-visit. After all, do you really need to go to the doctor’s office twice if they’re healthy enough to play sports? Of course, the answer is yes! Each type of visit to your pediatrician serves a different purpose, and one cannot replace the other.
Shoshana Gordon, D.O., a pediatrician for Henry Ford Health, explains the differences between the sports physical and regular wellness examination.
What Happens At A Wellness Exam
An annual wellness exam is a comprehensive visit that allows your child’s pediatrician to monitor all aspects of your child’s development. These appointments can vary quite a bit, depending on your child’s age.
“Your child grows so much early in life that we need to see them several times before their first birthday,” says Dr. Gordon. “As they get older, the conversations at these appointments evolve and expand to include topics like mental health and what to expect from puberty.”
Generally, many aspects of your child’s wellness exam will stay the same over time. Regardless of age, this appointment will include:
- Checking vitals (heart rate, blood pressure)
- A physical exam (to monitor physical growth)
- Discussing developmental milestones
- Developmental and emotional/behavioral screenings
- Conversations about nutrition and any physical activities your child is involved in
- Conversations about how your child is getting on at school
- An opportunity to discuss questions or concerns you or your child may have
One crucial part of the wellness exam is immunization. This appointment is the best time for you to talk with your child’s pediatrician to make sure that your child is up to date on necessary vaccines.
Additionally, wellness exams are the best way for you and your child to develop a relationship with their pediatrician. When you only take your child to the doctor when they are sick, it is harder for your pediatrician to set a baseline for their health.
“Regular wellness visits allow you and your child to get comfortable with asking your doctor questions,” says Dr. Gordon. “Once we develop a good patient-provider relationship, your child’s pediatrician will have an easier time recognizing when your child isn’t feeling like themselves and can better offer alternate approaches to care that best suit your child’s unique needs."
What Happens At A Sports Physical
Sports physicals are used to determine if your child is healthy enough to participate in organized sports. During this appointment, your child’s doctor will screen them for different sports-specific health concerns. They will be evaluating several things including:
- Heart function
- Lung function
“During a sports physical, we’ll look at both your child’s and your family’s health history to make sure there aren’t any indicators that could impact your child’s ability to play,” says Dr. Gordon. “For example, if your child had COVID or if you have a family history of cardiovascular complications, additional tests may be necessary to make sure this isn’t affecting your child’s health.”
The biggest difference from a wellness exam? Sports physicals don’t include developmental screeners that are essential to your child’s growth.
“At the end of the day, a sports physical cannot take the place of your child’s annual wellness exam,” says Dr. Gordon. “However, when you go for your child’s wellness exam, talk to your child’s pediatrician about including a sports physical as part of the appointment.”
In addition to the developmental, social and emotional evaluations that take place at your child’s annual wellness exam, this is the best time for you and your child to get to know your pediatrician. Establishing yourself with your child’s doctor will make it easier to treat and care for your child as they continue to grow.
Dr. Shoshana Gordon is a pediatrician who sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Center – Royal Oak and Henry Ford Medical Center – Sterling Heights.