Sports physicals: Not just for kids who play organized sports

Child on a bicycle at asphalt road in the evening

Sports physicals, also known as pre-participation exams (PPEs), are required for all student athletes every two years. If your child wants to take part in organized sports for the upcoming season, a PPE can help find any issues or problems before your child participates in a particular sport.

A PPE is not just for kids who play organized sports. From skateboarding, soccer and bicycling to snowboarding and skiing, all young people who are physically active should be seen by a healthcare professional before they head for the gymnasium, the playing field or the outdoors.

Dr. Yuka Kobayashi is a family and sports medicine physician who sees patients at OHSU Health’s Primary Care Clinic at Orenco Station and in Beaverton. A former collegiate swimmer who enjoys running, weightlifting and downhill skiing, Dr. Kobayashi says PPEs are important because they’re a way to identify any risks for injuries or detect rare illnesses. The essential parts of the sports physical include:

  • Finding any underlying health condition your child may have – such as asthma – that could get worse during activity
  • Discussing family medical history with a focus on heart, muscle or skeletal diseases to see if your child needs further testing
  • Making sure your child doesn’t have a serious condition that has not been diagnosed yet
  • Addressing symptoms your child has experienced during practices and games, and evaluating previous injuries
  • Having conversations about weight, mood changes and sleep issues that can affect your child’s sports performance and general well-being

Dr. Kobayashi says it’s helpful to schedule the sports physical at least six weeks before the sport’s season starts so if any concerns come up during the exam, the necessary steps can be taken before your child gets back in the game. She also recommends an in-person PPE be performed by your family or sports medicine doctor, or pediatrician, instead of going to a group sports physical. The in-person PPE is more private with lots of time to discuss sensitive issues compared to “mass” physicals in a gymnasium where children move quickly from station to station.

Another important consideration is your child’s heart health. Dr. Jennifer Huang, a pediatric cardiologist at OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, specializes in caring for kids with heart problems. She thinks it’s hugely important for children to be active and make exercise a part of their lives from a young age.

Once they are adults and have made exercise a habit, they will be healthier and less likely to develop lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

From riding their bike, playing in the park and doing household chores to going on a family hike, 30 minutes of exercise per day is all it takes to get your child’s heart rate up and them breathing hard.

There are risks for kids who are not active, such as obesity and developing health problems as adults. Dr. Huang’s hope is that children can build a foundation in childhood for a healthy lifestyle in adulthood and one of the best ways to do this is to find physical activities that your child enjoys and make time for them.

View OHSU’s COVID-19 resources, including up-to-date visitor policies, here.

The COVID-19 pandemic affects sports physicals in a few different ways. Dr. Kobayashi recommends checking with your doctor to see if they are seeing patients in person (preferable). OHSU Health enforces a mask-wearing policy for those 2 and up at all times while in our buildings. Only one parent or guardian is allowed during the exam and physical distancing guidelines are followed.


This article was written by Nina Silberstein.