Annual wellness exams important for young athletes

Despite changes to Missouri State High School Activities Association rules for presports physicals, medical professionals still recommend student athletes get a wellness exam each year.

This summer there’s good news for parents of high school-age athletes. The Missouri State High School Activities Association has issued a rule change for pre-sports physicals. While young athletes still should be seen annually for wellness exams, the physical exam portion now will be active for two years, instead of one.

This may seem like a reason for parents to celebrate, with fewer last-minute trips to the clinic to complete physical exam forms. However, does the new rule indicate students won’t need to be seen by a provider each year?

Melanie Palma, a clinical nurse practitioner at Liberty Hospital Primary Care Shoal Creek, clarifies the new rule by saying there’s more to student athletes’ health than what appears on the required sports physical exam forms.

“Physical exams do a good job covering sports-related patient history, such as whether a high school student has suffered an injury, concussion, or passed out during a sports activity, which could affect their healthy participation,” said Palma. “However, students still should see a provider annually for a wellness exam, which digs deeper into a student’s overall health and wellness.”

Just like for adults, wellness exams are recommended once a year for school-age children, and typically are covered 100 percent by insurance. During these exams, providers review immunizations, height, weight, and growth, as well as mental health, chronic illnesses and more.

“During an annual wellness exam, we have a greater opportunity to review a child’s overall health, and make sure they are meeting milestones,” said Palma. “During a routine physical, we are only looking for certain things to complete the exam form, and we can only catch so many other things related to their general health. Annual wellness visits allow us get to know kids, create a baseline for their health, and then monitor them year over year to ensure they are staying on track.”

Questions that Palma commonly fields from parents during routine wellness exams focus on kids’ height and weight, immunizations, chronic symptoms, and mental health.

“We are always happy to complete physicals for student-athletes, and of course, they are extremely important to ensure students have a healthy and safe athletic experience,” said Palma. “We just want to stress the importance of annual wellness exams for students — not only athletes — to ensure the health of every child.”

— Liberty Hospital

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