Why does your young athlete need an annual sports physical?

August 13, 2018 Providence Health Team

Byron Patterson, M.D., is known for working with top athletes, including stars from professional football and soccer leagues. But when it comes to defining an athlete, he takes a broad view.

 “The beauty of sports medicine is that it covers everybody,” says Dr. Patterson, a physician at Providence Tarzana Medical Center and Primary Care Sports Medicine in Tarzana, Calif. Whether an athlete is a professional at the top of her game or a stocky young person going out for his first cross-country team, he says, “the best medicine we can provide is exercise.”

 As young people prepare to return to school and participate in sports, Dr. Patterson and other health care providers are gearing up to provide annual, pre-participation sports physicals. These exams play an important role in setting a baseline for young people and their parents.

Note: A sports physical is not the same as and does not replace an annual wellness exam.

 “I think it’s invaluable,” Dr. Patterson says of the annual sports physical. While rules may vary from state to state, and economics vary from family to family, he favors a comprehensive annual exam that can uncover things such as hypertension or a family history of diabetes. A sports physical brings a young person into the health care system, making it easier to track them as they mature.

Athletes and pain

Anybody who’s competed in sports at any level has heard the phrase “No pain, no gain.” Perhaps it’s even plastered on the wall in the weight room, or spoken like a mantra by an intensely competitive coach.

Dr. Patterson doesn’t buy it.

“The concept of 'no pain, no gain' is really not useful in athletes,” he says. “Pain is usually there for a reason. It usually indicates something is wrong.”

Pain might tell an athlete to correct his or her mechanics, or to modify the workout routine to prevent overuse of muscles, tendons and ligaments. An athlete should have any pain assessed by a health care provider in order to limit or prevent any damage.

Athletes and diet

 It’s true for athletes as it’s true for everybody: “The best advice is to have a balanced diet,” says Dr. Patterson.

He says an athlete’s calorie intake should be tailored to the needs of his or her body, as would be shown by a gain or loss of weight. An athlete who is gaining weight may be taking in too many calories. An athlete who is losing weight may not be getting enough. The goal is to find the level at which weight stabilizes.

Additionally, he notes the need to attend for female athletes to attend to issues relating to “the women’s triad” — a disruption of the menstrual cycle, low energy state (often a result of an eating disorder) and stress fractures (from low bone density). This serious condition often requires management and treatment by qualified health care providers.

Advice for parents

What’s the best thing a parent can do for a young athlete?

“The most important thing is to be a fan, to support your kids,” Dr. Patterson says, "and not to put undue stress on a child.”

An aggressive, overly competitive parent doesn’t help a young athlete who already probably feels stress about competition, he says. 

“Be less of a coach and a critic of performance. That’s why coaches are there,” he says.

“It’s all about enjoying the journey the athlete is on, and to make sure the journey is as pleasant as possible.”


 If it’s time for your young athlete to get a pre-participation sports physical, find a provider who will give one that meets your school district’s requirements and, preferably, includes a comprehensive health check. You can find a Providence provider near you in our online directory

You also can get a sports exam at a Providence Express Care clinic in Oregon and Washington.

Alaska: Providence Orthopedic Services

California: Providence Medical Institute, Sports Medicine Services

Montana: Providence Orthopedics

Oregon: Providence Sports Medicine

Washington: Providence Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Institute; Providence Orthopedics, Spokane


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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.


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