Sports physicals make sure your child can safely compete – or skate, bike, ski and hike – this year

Close-up of young person wearing cleats and shinguards about to kick a soccer ball

In Oregon, sports physicals are required every two years for children to compete in school athletics or organized sports. But there’s more to these exams than checking the required boxes before your child heads for the gym or playing field.

All young people who are physically active – whether they’re skateboarding, biking, playing soccer snowboarding or skiing – should be seen regularly by a healthcare professional, says Dr. Yuka Kobayashi, a family and sports medicine doctor who sees patients at OHSU Health’s Primary Care Clinic at Orenco Station and in Beaverton.

Dr. Kobayashi also is a former collegiate swimmer who enjoys running, weightlifting and downhill skiing. She says sports physicals are essential for active kids. That’s because these exams can help your family find out whether your child is at risk for injuries in any of the activities they enjoy. Physicals also are a chance to go over any health concerns and for your doctor to look for signs of rare illnesses.

Getting the most out of the exam

While many health appointments can now be done virtually, sports physicals should be in person. Dr. Kobayashi recommends going to your family doctor, your child’s pediatrician or a sports medicine doctor for the exam instead of taking your child to a group sports physical. One-on-one visits are more private, with lots of time to talk about sensitive issues. That’s not the case with “mass” physicals in a gym, where kids move quickly from station to station.

In general, your child’s physical includes:

  • Looking for any unknown health conditions your child may have. If they are diagnosed with a condition that could worsen during activity, such as asthma, your provider will make sure your child has the right inhaler or the right amount of medication.
  • Checking on old injuries and talking about symptoms your child may have had during practices or games.
  • Reviewing your child’s and family’s medical history. If a condition runs in your family, your provider may suggest more tests.
  • Making sure your child doesn’t have a serious condition that hasn’t been diagnosed before.
  • Talking about how things such as weight, mood changes and quality of sleep can affect their overall wellbeing and performance in sports or activities.

If an issue comes up during the exam, your provider will work with you on a treatment plan. If your child is not cleared for an activity right away, they may only be sidelined temporarily. Most issues don’t stop kids from participating in sports or activities in the long run.

Active kids become healthy adults

As sports and activities kick into high gear, another issue to keep in mind is your child’s heart health. Dr. Jennifer Huang, a pediatric cardiologist at OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, specializes in caring for young people with heart conditions. She also directs Doernbecher’s exercise physiology and cardiac rehabilitation programs, which help kids build the stamina to live well with heart problems.

Dr. Huang stresses that it’s important for kids to make exercise a part of their lives early on. If being physically active is a habit by the time they reach adulthood, they will be healthier overall – and less likely to develop obesity, diabetes or heart disease.

One of the best ways to build this foundation is to find physical activities that your child enjoys and make time for them, Dr. Huang says.

It only takes 30 minutes of exercise a day to get your child’s heart rate up and to see the benefits of an active lifestyle. It could be as simple as going for a bike ride, playing in the park, going on a family hike or doing household chores.

Planning your visit

For peace of mind, Dr. Kobayashi suggests booking a sports physical at least six weeks before your child’s sports season or activity starts. That will give you time to take care of anything that comes up at the exam.

Find a provider near you.

OHSU Health’s system includes OHSU Healthcare and Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, Adventist Health Portland, and Hillsboro Medical Center (formerly Tuality Healthcare).

See how we’re protecting patients and visitors during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

All of our locations follow COVID-19 safety precautions. To allow for physical distancing, we ask that only one adult accompany your child to their sports physical. Please wear a mask and be prepared to answer a few screening questions when you arrive.


This article was written by Jillian Cohan Martin.