A physical exam, or a physical, is a routine test wherein a healthcare professional inspects, feels, or listens to different parts a person’s body. Other names for a physical include a complete physical exam, a routine physical, and a checkup.
The Process of a Pediatric Physical Exam
Most physical exams will begin with a preliminary conversation between the parent, the child, and a medical professional. If your child is a returning patient, the medical professional will review family health history, existing conditions, and any current health concerns.
Then, a clinical nurse will take the child’s height, weight, blood pressure, and oxygen saturation levels. These tests are quick and painless. The remainder of the physical evaluation can be broken down into three parts: observation, palpation, and auscultation.
During the observation phase, a healthcare professional will observe the child for any abnormalities that may indicate an underlying health concern. Then, he or she will examine the child using the fingers and hands — the palpation phase — to note any signs of irregular circulation, fluid buildup, or unusual heart activity.
The auscultation phase is the final portion of the physical exam, and it involves the use of the stethoscope to listen to the heart’s timing, loudness, pitch, and location. The healthcare provider will often listen to the entire chest and back to ensure there are no abnormalities.
Some of these steps may make children nervous, especially if they’re young, but they usually aren’t painful. Talking to your child about what to expect during a physical may help to calm their anxieties, as could bringing a familiar toy or game to distract them.
When Your Child Needs a Physical
Infants: Infants need to see a doctor frequently, as children are quite vulnerable before the age of 1. Most infants need physicals at two weeks, two months, four months, six months, nine months, and one year. The child will receive vaccines at every visit except for the two-week and nine-month visits.
Toddlers: Toddlers need physicals at 18 months, two years, and three years. There are no specific vaccines for toddlers, though your child’s physician can recommend any vaccines or treatments that they feel would be beneficial.
Four- to Five-Year-Olds: While most schools don’t require a physical exam before beginning kindergarten, it’s a good idea to ensure your child is up-to-date on vaccines — in fact, at the vast majority of schools, it’s required. These vaccines can usually be administered as soon as your child turns four and as late as just prior to school starting, though you should check with your doctor and your child’s school to make sure.
Six- to 11-Year-Olds: As a general rule, children over the age of five only need a physical every two years, unless they have a chronic condition or play a school sport. In those cases, they may need to see the doctor once a year or more. Besides the annual flu vaccine, school-aged children typically don’t need any more vaccines until age 11.
Teenagers: Generally speaking, teenagers who aren’t participating in school sports only need a physical every two years, and may need one or two vaccines depending on your pediatrician’s recommendations. If your child needs a physical for sports, make sure that the school form is completely filled out before your appointment. These forms often include a questionnaire and a signature from a parent or guardian. Your child’s doctor can sign once these fields are complete.
Does your child need a physical exam this year? Schedule an intake appointment