primary care

Sports Physicals

Ensure your child’s health before they compete.

You know sports are a great way to help children stay fit, learn new skills and socialize. But you might not know why sports physicals are required and important.

What is a sports physical?

In the sports medicine field, the sports physical exam is known as a preparticipation physical examination (PPE). The exam helps determine whether it’s safe for you or your child to participate in a particular sport.

In Oregon, students in grades seven to 12 are required to have a physical examination once every two years if they want to start a new sport or begin a new competitive season. But even if a PPE isn’t required, we still highly recommend this important exam.

The two main parts to a sports physical are the medical history and the physical exam.

Medical history

This part of the exam includes questions about:

  • Serious illnesses among other family members
  • Illnesses that you had when you were younger or may have now, such as asthma, diabetes or epilepsy
  • Previous hospitalizations or surgeries
  • Allergies (to insect bites, for example)
  • Past injuries (including concussions, sprains or bone fractures)
  • Whether you’ve ever passed out, felt dizzy, had chest pain or had trouble breathing during exercise
  • Any medications that you are on (including over-the-counter medications, herbal supplements and prescription medications)

The medical history questions are usually on a form students can bring home, so they can ask their parents or guardians to help fill in the answers. If possible, they should ask both parents about family medical history.

Looking at patterns of illness in your family is a very good indicator of any potential conditions. It’s unlikely any health conditions you have will completely prevent you from playing sports.

Physical examination

During the physical part of the exam, the doctor or nurse practitioner will usually:

  • Record your height and weight.
  • Take a blood pressure and pulse (heart rate and rhythm) reading.
  • Test your vision.
  • Check your heart, lungs, abdomen, ears, nose and throat.
  • Evaluate your posture, joints, strength and flexibility.

Although most aspects of the exam will be the same for males and females, if the child has started or has already gone through puberty the provider may ask a few additional questions.

The provider will also ask questions about the use of drugs, alcohol or dietary supplements, including steroids or other "performance enhancers" and weight-loss supplements. These can affect a person's health, and this information is confidential. It’s important to be honest with your provider.

At the end of the exam, the provider will either fill out and sign a form if everything checks out OK or, in some cases, recommend a follow-up exam, additional tests or specific treatment for medical problems.

Risks and tips for young athletes

Picture a school classroom. Big kids are often the same age as small ones. Mixing them up in a game can get the smaller ones hurt. Even the bigger kids can have immature muscles and bones and slower reaction times than adults.

Young athletes are at risk for:

  • Bruises
  • Overheating injuries — dehydration, heat exhaustion and heatstroke
  • Skeletal injuries — broken bones, stress fractures and damage to growth plates (areas where young bones are developing)
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Sprains and strains

Keeping young athletes safe should be a team effort. Parents and coaches need to match the child with the sport. They should always provide the right safety equipment.

Parents and coaches can help keep kids healthy and safe by remembering these guidelines:

  • Start with a checkup from your family physician before enrolling in a sports program.
  • Get in shape for the sport.
  • Know the rules and follow them.
  • Wear the right gear, such as helmets, body padding or face guards, depending on the sport.
  • Warm up before you play.
  • Take water breaks while you play.
  • If you’re in pain, don’t play.

The best intentions

We all want to instill a good work ethic in our kids. Sports is a great way to teach kids to work hard and stretch their abilities. But children should also be encouraged to report injuries or pain to coaches and parents, who can be sure they get appropriate care.

Parents and coaches can also team up to avoid a “win at all costs” attitude in young athletes. Remember that youth sports should always be fun.

Your child’s pediatrician or primary care provider may provide sports physicals. Adventist Health Portland’s many primary care and urgent care clinics also provide these important exams.

Call (503) 261-6929 and we’ll help you find a sports physical appointment near you.