High school athletes receive free physicals
VAIL — Nearly 250 high school boys and girls received free physical exams on May 16 from volunteer physicians and athletic trainers from Vail Valley Medical Center and The Steadman Clinic. Runners, skiers, dancers, football and ice hockey players were screened for vision and hearing; heart, blood pressure and pulse; as well as general health, and all incoming freshmen received baseline testing for concussions. In addition, the student athletes and their parents received education on injury prevention, when to return to sport after injury, concussions and physical rehabilitation.
“VVMC and The Steadman Clinic have partnered to offer this service for almost 20 years,” said VVMC President and CEO Doris Kirchner. “The goal of providing this testing at no cost is to make athletics possible for all our high school student athletes, but our true mission is to keep these young athletes healthy and safe.”
Dr. Steve Singleton, a physician with The Steadman Clinic, is the medical director for Eagle County Schools. He screened every student athlete May 16, highlighting any areas of concern and providing referrals when necessary. He says the purpose of the high school physicals is to try to find any preexisting issues that can be corrected so the students can play more safely.
“It’s a service to the community, local families and students,” Singleton said. “The physicals help us make sure we’re doing the best we can to care for the young people in our community.”
While athletics support an active and healthy lifestyle, there are inherent risks of injury, especially as sports become more rigorous in high school. Concussions, a particular area of concern in young athletes, was the focus of Saturday’s ImPACT testing, a baseline mental acuity study. After gathering the students’ history of concussions, head injuries or headaches, a computerized test was administered. The data provides a guideline for potential future ImPACT testing should a student sustain a head injury or concussion. Having a comparison helps the physician, teachers and coaches determine a safe approach for return to school and play.
“In the 20 years I’ve done high school physicals (not all in Eagle County), I’ve found many more students now who have described having had a concussion than I did 10 years ago,” Singleton said. “With a greater national attention to head injuries and concussions, physicians are paying more attention to the signs and symptoms.”
A second area of concern in young athletes is the heart. Shocking incidents of sudden cardiac arrest and other heart-related deaths in high school athletes across the nation have signaled the need for physicians to check for a history of heart disease and listen for heart murmurs. Irregular heartbeats, blood pressure and pulse are of particular concern for athletes living and competing at high altitude.
A musculoskeletal exam is also required to participate in sports. While some students of high school age experience growing pains that are of less concern, Singleton explains that joints that swell, slip or come out of place are a red flag for orthopedic physicians and athletic trainers.
“Often we can find these issues and get the students on a therapy plan and develop programs for stretching and maintenance to help minimize the chance for injury,” Singleton said.
Similar pre-participation testing to those offered on Saturday would require visits to a family physician or pediatrician and a musculoskeletal specialist. Participants in the VVMC/Steadman Clinic physicals received all-in-one assessments and advice at no cost.
Gov. Jared Polis has lauded Summit County’s health care purchasing collaborative as a “transformative” step toward lowering the cost of health care. Officials in Eagle County are now hoping they can adopt a similar model for residents here.