Taking a child to see a physician regularly helps a child become accustomed to seeing a physician; then the experience will not feel so foreign as an adult. I encourage children to get into the habit of talking to a doctor about their health. Children also will learn that having scheduled, routine care can help prevent health problems or reduce their severity.
Checkups before class or competition
The differences between a sports physical and a back-to-school physical are substantial. A back-to-school physical does more than update the required immunizations; these checkups provide an opportunity for preventive medicine.
The physician evaluates whether the child’s growth and development are progressing appropriately. As children approach their teens, I also speak with the child alone and confidentially about the challenges and even dangers that come with being a teenager.
In my practice, I give many sports physicals to ensure that a child is ready to play sports in the coming year. After reviewing the child’s family and personal medical histories, I evaluate any risk of serious injury from athletics. This exam also can help prevent further injury from any unhealed injuries that may have occurred previously. Another important component of the sports physicals is checking the child’s blood pressure and other vital signs that can reveal potential health risks.
A learning opportunity
A regular physical exam also gives me time to inform parents and children about dangers children might face in sports and everyday life.
Concussion is one of the most devastating injuries that children and teens can suffer. The greatest concussion risk lies in “contact collision” sports: football, basketball, soccer, doubles tennis, boxing and wrestling, among other sports. Car accidents, too, pose a risk of a serious concussion.
For some reason that is not fully understood, a child takes longer than an adult to recover from a concussion. Evidence suggests that the developing brain is more sensitive to head trauma than the adult brain. This is why extra care must be taken with children to diagnose and treat concussions appropriately.
Dehydration also can cause serious harm. Coaches and parents must be able to recognize signs of dehydration on a hot day. Athletes who carry the gene for sickle cell anemia can have a greater sensitivity to dehydration.
Although it has risks, parents and their children need to remember that participating in sports should be fun. Remember that children are supposed to play football and play basketball. They can suffer psychological damage as well as physical injury when they concentrate entirely on winning and on their performance in a sport. Keep the focus on the fun of participating, teamwork and competition.
Find a family physician, keep your kids healthy
Of course, obesity remains the leading health concern for our children. Inactivity from hours at a computer or video games plus a poor diet are the greatest contributors to obesity. Parents need to be more conscious of the many health issues that result from obesity, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
With regular, preventive checkups, a physician can monitor a child’s weight and alert parents and the child when weight gain begins to exceed normal levels. Parents also must set an example and train children to practice a healthy diet and lifestyle. This will prepare the child to follow a healthy lifestyle as an adult and to set a good example for his or her children.
Whether preparing for sports or for another year of learning, children need preventive medicine and healthy habits. Establishing care with a family physician marks one big step in that direction.
Luis Palacio, MD, is medical director of sports medicine for the Northern Nevada Medical Group in Sparks.