The difference between wellchecks and sports physicals

Pediatrician: Parents should still take athletes for a well-child exam

Physician Examining Patient s Mouth

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As a parent, you may wonder if you need to take your child to see their pediatrician for a wellcheck if they have already underwent a sports physical at school.

Dr. Daniel Howard, ADC Pediatrics, answered some common questions about the difference between wellchecks and sports physicals and why the trip to the pediatrician is worth it.

What is the difference between a sports physical and a well-child exam?

A sports physical is a physical exam done to clear a child or teenager for sports participation. A well-child exam is a much more comprehensive visit with a pediatrician where all aspects of health are addressed.

This includes a child’s growth and development, school performance, mental and behavioral health and chronic medical problems. Furthermore, recommended immunizations may be given, labs may be drawn, and a complete physical exam is performed. A well-child exam is a much more extensive visit.

Is there a reason to do both?

Usually not.

However, one problem that some families run into is that schools may require a well check after a certain date, but health insurance allows for one well check per year.

So, if a child has recently had a well check but the school sport requires an exam at a date after the well check, then a sports physical can be done. This, too, is best done by a child’s pediatrician.

Why should a parent schedule an appointment with a pediatrician, rather than just using the sports exam through a school?

The well check with a pediatrician takes a much more comprehensive view of how a child is doing. The sports physical through school is very narrowly focused on sports participation. And as we all know, there is a whole lot more to kids than just sports.

Pediatricians can establish a relationship with kids and families that allows them to track a child’s health, growth, and development. If there are problems that are identified, the pediatrician can address them immediately.

What kinds of things do you – as a pediatrician – see that a sports physical can’t diagnose?

There are many things that I see as a pediatrician that can’t be diagnosed with a sports physical. I’m able to identify abnormal patterns of growth because I’m seeing kids year after year. I can uncover more chronic underlying problems such as attention problems, allergies, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, pre-diabetes, and asthma.

I will also often uncover social, behavioral, or academic problems at well visits that only come up because I ask about these things, and because I’ve developed a relationship with kids and their families so they feel comfortable talking about these things.