Healthy Athlete

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 Patterson, a physician at 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 check them over for their annual, pre-participation physical exams. These exams play an important role in setting a baseline for young people and their parents.

“I think it’s invaluable,” Dr. Patterson says of the annual exam. 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 like hypertension or a family history of diabetes. The point is, a sports physical brings a young person into the health care system, making it easier to track them as they mature.

Dr. Patterson talking about sports injuries, nutrition, and other sports medicine related topics

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 mechanics, or to modify her workout routine to limit overuse of muscles, tendons and ligaments. An athlete should get the 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 his body’s needs, as would be shown by a gain or loss of weight. An athlete who is gaining weight may well be taking in too many calories. An athlete losing weight may not be getting enough. The point is to find the level at which weight stabilizes.

Additionally, he notes the need to attend to issues relating to “the women’s triad” — a disruption of the menstrual cycle, an eating disorder or a stress fracture. These indicate a potentially serious problem that should be diagnosed and managed.

Advice for parents

What’s the best thing a parent can do when a young athlete is in the house?

“The most important thing is to be a fan, to support your kids,” Dr. Patterson says. “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 exam, 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 an exam at a Providence Express Care clinic in Oregon and Washington.

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