Get a Head Start on Sports Physicals for Next School Year
There are several advantages to visiting your regular pediatrician for your child's sports physical.
By Jean Yaeger
Before they can pump weights in the school gym or march with the band this summer, teens in Texas need to complete a form that aims to catch any underlying health concerns.
The annual UIL pre-participation physical evaluation form applies to junior high and high school student athletes and marching band members for the 2023-2024 school year. The form has two parts:
1. Medical history – a list of yes/no questions about headaches, dizziness, chest pain, seizures, allergies and more. This portion must be filled out every year by the student and parent or guardian.
2. Physical exam – performed by a physician to check the student’s lungs, joints, vision, weight, heart rate, blood pressure and more. UIL requires the physical exam before the 7th, 9th and 11th grades. Some districts, including Fort Worth Independent School District (FWISD), require it annually.
Doctors at Cook Children’s say the physical exams are an important safeguard for student athletes. Sports physicals give doctors the chance to check for a variety of concerns – everything from poor eyesight and asthma to a lingering sprain or even a serious heart condition.
“The goal of a sports participation physical is to review each child’s health history, to perform a thorough exam, and to identify health issues that could predispose the participant to a high risk of having symptoms or an injury while playing sports,” said Ann Natterer, M.D. at Cook Children’s Pediatrics Cityview in Fort Worth.
Why go to your regular pediatrician for this exam?
Dr. Natterer points out several advantages, including patient privacy and getting up-to-date with routine care, such as vaccinations.
“The pediatrician knows the child the best, has access to past medical history, and is also in a better position to facilitate any follow-up evaluations that may be necessary,” she said.
The pediatrician sees the big picture during a sports physical, said Wuroh Timbo, M.D. at Cook Children’s Pediatrics Lake Forest in McKinney. Your teen’s doctor has the files to track changes over time in weight, heart rate, medications and other parts of health history. Your teen’s doctor also knows about any previous illnesses, such as rheumatic fever, which can cause heart valve damage.
“And I think also just having an already established rapport with the families,” Dr. Timbo said. “It’s way easier to communicate with someone you already know. You’re going to get better information and give better information when there’s already a previously established relationship.”
Dr. Timbo recommends that parents make the appointment for their teen’s sports physical as early as possible. Getting the physical exam done early in the summer beats the rush that typically happens just before football workouts and band practice start. In other words … don’t put it off. It’s better to find out in May rather than in August if a student athlete needs vision correction, an inhaler or physical therapy, for instance.
What to Expect
It takes about 15 minutes, Dr. Timbo said, to go through a sports physical. Blank spaces on the UIL form allow the doctor to make note of any abnormalities with the patient’s eyes, ears, throat, lymph nodes, pulse, lungs, abdomen, back, feet and joints.
A sports exam gives patients the chance to ask questions or report any problems that impact their athletic ability. Knee pain and heel pain are the two most common complaints that Dr. Timbo hears. Sometimes the athletes tell him they’ve noticed shortness of breath or frequent headaches.
“Whether it’s something like exercise-induced asthma that we hadn’t caught before, or it’s an injury that re-aggravates every time they do a certain movement, we want to know, and we want to come up with a treatment plan to address it,” he said.
After the exam, the doctor checks one of three options on the UIL form: cleared for participation, cleared after completing additional evaluation or rehabilitation, or not cleared due to concerns. A referral might be needed for further tests with a specialist.
FWISD Director of Athletics Lisa Langston, Ph.D. said a physician’s clearance offers some assurance that the students can safely practice and compete in sports activities. Thanks to the required physical exams, she said, conditions such as cardiac issues and hernias have been detected through the years.
“The students understand it’s all about their health and wellbeing. We’re not just doing lip service,” Dr. Langston said.
Dr. Timbo urges his patients to listen to their bodies. Speak up if something feels off. Understand that the annual sports physical is geared to pick up on any medical condition that might hinder their performance. Some underlying conditions could even be life-threatening, such as heart rhythm disorders that might lead to sudden cardiac arrest.
“All doctors want their patients to be active,” he said. “Athletics is good for the body, good for the heart and teaches great life lessons on the ability to work in teams, resiliency and concentration. But we as physicians want to make sure that they’re safe to participate in these activities.”
Get to know Ann Natterer, M.D.
For the past 25 years, Dr. Ann Natterer has cared for children in the Fort Worth area as a member of the Cook Children’s Physician Network. She has the privilege of knowing families through two generations, as some of her current patients are the babies of her now-grown former patients. Her favorite pastimes include fitness, outdoor activities and exploring new sites. Schedule an exam with Dr. Natterer here:
Get to know Wuroh Timbo, M.D.
Dr. Wuroh Timbo believes that pediatricians have the best job in the world. He enjoys being part of every step his patients make along the way from infancy to adulthood. Outside of the office he’s learning to play guitar and cheering for his favorite sports teams. As a former high school soccer player and track competitor, Dr. Timbo lives vicariously through his patients when they share their athletic endeavors. Make an appointment with Dr. Timbo here: