Published onHealth Tip of the Week
A lot can change in a year. An annual back-to-school physical is one way to make sure your child stays healthy and ready for the academic year ahead. The purpose of a school physical is to monitor your child’s growth and development, as well as screen for and address any potential problems that may arise. While physical exam requirements may vary by state, grade and type of school, a clean bill of health ensures your child meets the health requirements of school districts and sports teams.
During a school physical, your pediatrician will assess your child’s physical, mental and behavioral health. Your child’s growth will be recorded, and all of their body systems will be evaluated. At some visits, their hearing and vision will be screened based on age and AAP recommendations. Their posture and strength will be evaluated. If necessary, your child may receive additional testing.
Your pediatrician will also review your child’s sleep patterns, daily nutrition and safety behaviors, such as wearing a seatbelt in the car and a helmet while bike riding. Special attention will be paid to whether or not your child is meeting typical developmental milestones. This is critical, as it allows your pediatrician to catch any problems early and ensures that your child has interventional resources available during the academic year.
A school physical also involves checking your child’s immunization records to ensure that they are up-to-date. Your child can receive any necessary vaccines at this time. Safeguarding your child’s health and the health of their classmates is a top priority of school administrators. Your school may require an updated immunization record before admitting your child in the fall.
Annual school physicals also help keep your child’s medical record and health history up-to-date. Your pediatrician will ask questions about your child’s past injuries and hospitalizations as well as current health conditions and medications. It’s also important to let your pediatrician know about any serious health conditions in your family, such as heart disease or cancer. This helps your pediatrician determine whether your child is at risk of developing these conditions and take early action should any symptoms develop.
If your child plans to play a sport during the upcoming school year, their school may also require a sports physical. In this case, your pediatrician will need to fill out a medical eligibility form stating that your child is healthy enough to participate in sports. Sports physicals are typically required for children from middle school through college, and should be scheduled at least eight weeks prior to the start of an athletic season in order to leave time for further evaluation or necessary treatments.
Usually occurring during the same appointment as your child’s back-to-school exam, a sports physical focuses on your child’s wellbeing as it relates to sports. This is an opportunity to discuss any issues that may interfere with your child’s ability to participate in sports and learn ways to keep your child safe. Some of the most important health issues related to student-athletes include:
- Heart health
- Previous concussions or head injuries
- Overuse and overtraining
In addition to any necessary safety measures, your pediatrician can advise your child on performance nutrition and safe training programs to help avoid injury.
Preparing for your visit
Your child’s school physical is an excellent time to ask questions about their health. It may be helpful to prepare a list of questions ahead of time. Topics you may want to discuss include:
- Concerns about your child’s physical health
- Delays in developmental milestones
- Learning difficulties or behavioral issues
- Changes in sleeping or eating habits
- Changes in mood, such as frequent sadness or worry
Make sure to bring any forms that need to be completed before the academic year begins. This may include a sports physical form or a request for updated immunization records.
Schedule a back-to-school physical now, and set your child up for a healthy, happy school year.
Contributed by: Lisa Biggs, MD
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