What Happens In A Sports Physical? Get Ready for the Game with These Tests

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As athletes, we want to be at our physical best when it comes to diving into a game. For that reason, every athlete is required to undergo a sports physical before participating in a sport of their choice.

A sports physical is not just about getting a clearance so you can play your game though. It involves a thorough examination of your body by a professional who knows the type of stress and strain your chosen activity will place on you. In general, the main aim of this check-up is to ensure there are no underlying conditions that may then become aggravated due to rigorous physical activity.

The tests and checks performed vary depending upon age, gender, medical history, and the level of intensity of the desired sport – for obvious reasons, someone playing football should anticipate different types of tests than someone running track or practicing yoga. Overall, however, the focus on the following five areas:

“Health history review, Physical exam, Blood pressure/pulse and vision check, Heart exam and Lungs Exam.”

Intrigued to know more? Whether you’re an adult joining a community sports team or helping children gear up for after-school activities, read on for all the details around what happens during a standard sports physical test!

Medical History Review

Patient Information

A sports physical is a routine examination performed on an athlete before participating in sports. During a sports physical, the doctor reviews your medical history and any previous injuries or conditions you may have had.

The doctor will ask for information such as your age, height, weight, heart rate, blood pressure, and other vital signs to get a clear idea of your overall health. They will also inquire about your family’s medical history to determine if there are any genetic conditions that you might be at risk for.

Previous Conditions

If you’ve suffered from previous medical conditions, it’s important to disclose them to the doctor during your sports physical. This includes any surgeries you’ve undergone, bone fractures, concussions, asthma attacks, or chronic illnesses like diabetes and epilepsy.

Your physician wants to understand your previous ailments so they can make accurate judgments about your current health status. Previous conditions can potentially affect your athletic performance or increase your likelihood of injury, so being upfront with your physician is crucial.

Allergies and Medications

Allergies and medications can greatly impact your health and ability to play sports. It’s essential to inform your physician of any medication you’re currently taking, whether over-the-counter or prescription drugs.

You should also provide a full list of allergies you have, including reactions to substances like bee stings, food, and medications. With this information, your physician can avoid prescribing medication that could trigger allergic reactions or worsen existing conditions.

“Providing honest answers helps to ensure personalized care is rendered,” says Dr. Michael Mithoefer, MD.

The purpose of a sports physical is to ensure you’re in good medical condition before engaging in any athletic activity. By reviewing your medical history, previous conditions, allergies, medications, and vital signs, your physician can evaluate if participating in games or matches is safe for you.

“Having this examination will allow students to participate safely,” says Dr. Christopher Koutures, MD, FAAP.

Physical Examination

A sports physical evaluation is an important step in determining if a young athlete is fit enough to engage in competitive and team-based activities. A thorough physical examination helps medical professionals identify any underlying medical conditions that may impede an athlete’s participation in sports.

Sports physical evaluations are performed by licensed medical practitioners such as physicians, nurses, or physician assistants who specialize in sports medicine. During the exam, these professionals assess several key areas of the body to make sure that their patients’ health does not pose a risk during play. Here are some main aspects included in a sports physical:

Body Temperature and Blood Pressure

The first thing your doctor will evaluate during a sports physical is your body temperature and blood pressure. Abnormalities in these vital signs can indicate illness or injury and should be addressed before engaging in athletic activity.

Your doctor may measure your blood pressure at rest and while exercising to ensure that it falls within healthy parameters for your age and fitness level. Monitoring the changes in your blood pressure is essential in identifying potential heart problems like arrhythmia.

Respiratory Rate and Oxygen Saturation

To stay active and perform well in sports, optimal lung function is necessary. This means having normal respiratory rates and adequate oxygen saturation levels. When assessing respiratory rate, doctors monitor breathing patterns to determine whether they align with expected norms based on age, sex, and lifestyle habits.

Oxygen saturation levels can also provide essential information about an athlete’s cardio-respiratory system. Low oxygen saturation levels may suggest anemia or asthma, which would require further diagnosis and treatment before continuing to participate in sports activities.

Abdomen and Skin Examination

Skin check-up is necessary when playing contact sports since skin infections spread quickly among team members. Skin infections like ringworm, fungal infections, or impetigo are highly contagious and affect performance significantly.

The abdominal exam helps doctors evaluate the spleen’s size and condition if it developed any atrophy that can rupture during severe physical activity./s> During this part of the examination, doctors will also check for muscle rigidity or tenderness.

Vision and Hearing Test

A sports physical typically includes a vision and hearing test to ensure athletes have adequate sensory function before participating in sports.

Visual Acuity Test

The visual acuity test measures an athlete’s ability to see clearly at a distance. During the test, the physician will assess how well an athlete reads letters from a chart located 20 feet away. If necessary, the doctor may also conduct additional tests, such as a depth perception or peripheral vision test.

“Many young athletes take their good eyesight for granted and do not realize they have a vision problem until it is too late,” says ophthalmologist Richard P. Mills, M.D.

Color Blindness Test

In addition to measuring visual acuity, physicians may also administer a color blindness test to identify any color deficiencies that could affect an athlete’s performance. The most common type of test involves having athletes distinguish numbers and shapes made up of multiple colored dots.

“For athletes involved in activities requiring quick decision-making and coordination, being aware of color deficiency can help them to prepare and make adjustments on the field,” explains retina specialist Dr. James A. Zagzebski.

Hearing Sensitivity Test

The hearing sensitivity test evaluates how well athletes hear sounds of different frequencies and volumes. This test helps detect potential hearing loss, which can impact communication between teammates and coaches during games and practices.

“Hearing loss due to noise exposure among recreational athletes is becoming more frequent and younger people are starting to lose their hearing earlier than in generations past because of excess noise,” warns audiologist Alison Grimes, Ph.D.

Speech Recognition Test

The speech recognition test measures how well athletes understand spoken words in a noisy environment. This test can help identify hearing loss or auditory processing disorders that may go unnoticed in quieter settings.

“An athlete’s ability to process information accurately and quickly during noisy events, such as a pep rally or the cheering crowd at a game, is essential for success on the field,” explains audiologist Timothy Hullar, M.D., Ph.D.

Cardiovascular Examination

A sports physical is an essential part of any athlete’s health journey, as it determines whether the individual can safely participate in a particular sport. One critical component of a sports physical is a cardiovascular examination.

Heart Rate and Rhythm

The physician will check the athlete’s heart rate and rhythm to ensure they are within a healthy range for participating in their chosen sport. Heart rate and rhythm abnormalities may signify underlying medical conditions that need further evaluation before participation in physically demanding activities.

“Knowing your heart rate during exercise can help you monitor the intensity of your workout and prevent overexertion.” – American Heart Association

Additionally, athletes with a history of heart conditions or surgeries may require specialized testing such as an electrocardiogram (ECG) to determine if they are fit for their chosen sport.

Blood Vessel Examination

During a cardiovascular exam, the physician may also examine and palpate the athlete’s blood vessels for signs of abnormal swelling or inflammation. Such symptoms could indicate underlying vascular diseases or injuries that may interfere with athletic performance.

In extreme cases, damage to blood vessels could lead to potentially life-threatening conditions such as deep vein thrombosis (DVT), pulmonary embolism, or arterial ruptures.

Edema Assessment

An important aspect of cardiovascular examination is checking for edema, which is the accumulation of fluids in tissue spaces. Edema is commonly found in athletes who engage in high-impact activities that involve jumping, running, or lifting weights.

“Swollen ankles, feet, and legs cause discomfort and can be treated by raising the affected limb(s).” – Johns Hopkins Medicine

If left untreated, edema can impair an athlete’s performance, causing stiffness or pain in the joints. In extreme cases, it can even result in permanent tissue damage.

A cardiovascular exam is a crucial aspect of any sports physical and should be taken seriously by both athletes and their physicians to ensure safe and optimal participation in sports activities.

Musculoskeletal Examination

A sports physical exam includes a musculoskeletal examination to evaluate the condition of an athlete’s muscles, bones, and joints. This assessment helps to identify any potential issues that may limit their ability to participate in sports activities safely or effectively.

Range of Motion Test

One component of a musculoskeletal examination is a range of motion test. In this test, the healthcare provider assesses the athlete’s flexibility by measuring how much they can move their arms, legs, and other parts of their body.

This evaluation is important because it helps the provider determine if the athlete has any joint restrictions or muscle tightness that could affect their ability to perform certain movements during their chosen sport. If there are significant limitations, the provider may recommend specific stretching exercises or refer the athlete to a physical therapist for further treatment.

Joint Stability Test

The stability of an athlete’s joints is essential for injury prevention and optimal athletic performance. Therefore, a joint stability test is often part of a musculoskeletal examination. During this test, the healthcare provider evaluates the strength and stability of each joint, including the knees, ankles, elbows, wrists, and shoulders.

If the provider finds any weakness or instability in the athlete’s joints, they may provide recommendations for strengthening exercises focused on improving balance and coordination. These exercises can help prevent injuries caused by sudden movements, such as twists or falls during sporting events.

Posture Assessment

A posture assessment evaluates the alignment of an athlete’s spine and identifies any asymmetries that may increase the risk of injury. Poor posture can lead to strained muscles and ligaments, which can cause pain and affect overall physical performance.

The healthcare provider observes the athlete’s standing position, looking for any structural abnormalities such as a tilted pelvis, uneven shoulders or hips. In some cases, posture assessments may include an evaluation of the athlete’s gait (the way they walk). If these evaluations reveal any issues, the provider will suggest exercises to correct poor posture habits and reduce the risk of future injuries.

Muscle Strength Test

A muscle strength test assesses the strength and endurance of each of an athlete’s major muscle groups, including those in the arms, legs, neck, back, and core. This examination helps determine if certain muscles are weaker than others, which could lead to strain during sports activities.

The healthcare provider typically uses manual resistance testing (using their hand to apply force against the athlete’s muscle) to determine how much force the athlete can produce. They may also use equipment such as weights or resistance bands to provide a more comprehensive evaluation.

“A sports physical exam is essential for identifying risk factors that might prevent participation, cause injury, or require additional medical attention.” – John Hopkins Medicine

The musculoskeletal examination is just one component of a sports physical exam but is vital to assessing an athlete’s ability to safely participate in sports activities. A complete assessment can identify limitations that may interfere with performance or increase the risk of athletic injury. When issues arise, prompt treatment can help athletes return to competition quickly while minimizing the risk of worsening injuries.

Urine Test

A urine test is a common component of a sports physical. This test checks for various health conditions such as diabetes, kidney disease, and dehydration. It can also screen for drug use in athletes.


The first part of a urine test is typically a urinalysis. During this process, a sample of your urine will be collected to determine if there are any abnormalities present that may require further testing. The lab will check the color, pH level, and specific gravity of your urine. An abnormal result could indicate an infection or other underlying condition.

If anything unusual appears during the urinalysis, a more detailed urine analysis may be required. This could include a microscopic examination of the urine, which looks at the number of red blood cells, white blood cells, bacteria, and other substances located within the urine. If these levels appear abnormal, it may be indicative of a urinary tract infection or another ailment that requires medical attention.

Urine Culture Test

Another type of urine test that may be conducted is called a urine culture test. This test checks for bacterial infections, specifically those that attack the urinary tract. To perform this test, a sample of your urine will be obtained and placed on a special growth medium that encourages bacteria to grow. After several days, lab techs examine how many colonies have developed-the more there are, the bigger the chance you have an infection.

If a bacterial infection is confirmed through the urine culture test, antibiotics may be prescribed. Otherwise, the doctor may recommend additional tests to rule out more serious health problems like bladder cancer or kidney stones.

“A urine test can provide insights into the overall health of an athlete’s kidneys, liver, and metabolic system.” -Doctor Mark Sender, Medical Director of the Orthopedic Sports Medicine Center in New York City

Athletes who participate in sports are more likely to experience dehydration. This is because they are exerting a lot of energy and sweating on a regular basis, which can cause them to lose fluids quickly. A urine test can provide insight into the athlete’s hydration status and overall health.

If an individual is dehydrated at the time of the test, their urine will appear darker than usual. On the other hand, if an athlete is very hydrated, their pee may be clear or light yellow. The doctor will use this information to make recommendations regarding fluid intake before, during, and after games or workouts.

“It’s essential that athletes stay properly hydrated for optimal performance.” -Christina Deangelis, Registered Dietitian and Health Coach

A urine test provides valuable information about an athlete’s general health as well as their specific metabolism and hydration levels. The results of this test can help coaches, trainers, and medical professionals design training programs that meet the specific needs of each athlete.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a sports physical?

A sports physical is a medical exam that evaluates an athlete’s overall health and fitness level. It’s designed to identify any potential health risks that may impact the athlete’s ability to participate in sports safely. The exam typically includes an assessment of the athlete’s medical history, physical examination, and various tests to evaluate the individual’s health condition.

Why do athletes need a sports physical?

Athletes need a sports physical to ensure they are healthy and fit enough to participate in sports safely. The exam is designed to identify any underlying medical conditions that could increase the risk of injury during physical activity. Athletes who participate in sports without a physical exam are at risk of serious injury or even death if they have an undiagnosed medical condition.

What happens during a sports physical exam?

During a sports physical exam, the physician will evaluate the athlete’s medical history, including any past injuries or surgeries, family medical history, and current medications. The physician will also conduct a thorough physical examination, including checks of the heart, lungs, abdomen, and musculoskeletal system. The physician may also perform additional tests, such as blood pressure, vision, and hearing tests.

What are the common tests performed in a sports physical?

The common tests performed in a sports physical include checks of the athlete’s heart rate, blood pressure, vision, and hearing. The physician may also check the individual’s lung function and perform a musculoskeletal exam to check for any muscle imbalances or joint issues. Additionally, the physician may perform a neurological exam, blood tests, or an electrocardiogram (ECG) if deemed necessary.

What are the possible outcomes of a sports physical?

The possible outcomes of a sports physical include a clearance to participate in sports, a recommendation for further testing or evaluation, or a disqualification from participation due to a medical condition that could pose a risk to the athlete’s health. The physician may also provide recommendations for injury prevention or refer the individual to a specialist for further evaluation or treatment.

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