Children's Health

Physical Exams (sport/school/camp/annual)

Family working out

Getting a Physical Exam

Physical exams in family practice tend to be either annual or related to some special type of organization. Most schools, for example, require that a record of a physical be on file in the nurse's office, and camps or sports participation can make this a requirement of registration as well. Regular physical exams (sport/school/camp/annual) are an important part of preventive medicine and are typically quick and easy appointments for healthy patients.

What a Physical Exam Includes

A physical exam tends to be made up of two parts. First, the nurse or doctor will get your medical history and review it for any current symptoms or red flags. This is an important part of the exam because if a child is experiencing any problems, a thorough review of the history can help guide the medical professional in addressing the issue.

The second part of the exam is physical. A patient's height, weight, and blood pressure are checked. Typically, the doctor will look in the patient's eyes, ears, nose, and mouth and will listen to the heart and lungs. The doctor may also perform other tests or assessments as dictated by the type of exam a patient is therefore.

The Annual Physical

In an annual physical exam, vaccinations may be administered depending on whether the patient is up to date. Doctors may provide guidance in what to expect for the upcoming year and may do an occasional lab test to screen for possible problems. A vision test may also be administered.

The Sport or Camp Physical

A physical exam that is not periodic in nature is often performed as a requirement for participation in something. Most of the time, the doctor must sign off on a required form indicating certain health indices have been met. As a result, a child who gets a physical for camp attendance or sports participation may not need as thorough an exam. Often, the medical professional will pay closer attention to a patient's limbs, joints, and posture during a sports physical and will carefully examine any old injuries to ensure continued health.

Why a Physical is Important

Physicals exams are important for different reasons. The annual exam is especially important for children as it helps to keep their vaccinations up to date and can catch any delays or worrisome developments as children age. Laboratory tests may also be requested in order to screen for certain diseases or illnesses or if a patient reports a symptom.

Physical exams for things like school, sports, or camps serve as pre-participation screenings. They ensure that a patient is healthy enough to take part in the activities that are a normal part of the sport or camp life.

Think of it this way. A child may develop a heart condition she is unaware of, but because of the required physical exam needed for her to attend an overnight camp, her condition can be diagnosed and treated so she can maintain as healthy and active a life as possible. Without the pre-participation physical, the condition may have gone on unnoticed and eventually caused dangerous or life-threatening symptoms.

What to Expect

A physical is typically quick and routine, and it can often be rolled into a regular checkup appointment. A health care professional will take a patient's weight and height and will also check other vital signs. The patient may be asked questions about the following:
  • illnesses or serious symptoms a patient may be experiencing
  • medications a patient may be taking
  • serious illnesses suffered by a patient's immediate family members
  • allergies a patient may suffer from
  • past or current injuries, including concussions, sprains or broken bones
  • any surgical procedures a patient may have undergone
  • whether a patient suffers from syncope (fainting) or dizziness or has ever had chest pain or difficulties breathing during exercise
  • After reviewing a patient's medical history and vitals, a doctor may then discuss any symptoms he or she is experiencing before conducting a physical exam or requesting a blood draw or urine sample to follow up.
  • Patients needing physical exams (sport/school/camp/annual) should bring any required forms with them to the doctor's office. This way, two trips will not be necessary, and the patient may not incur any additional fees as some offices charge extra for forms completed outside of an appointment. Patients with more complicated medical histories should bring a list of medications or symptoms along with them to the appointment. If a parent or child has any questions about a patient's health, writing those questions down will ensure nothing is forgotten during the exam.