What Happens in Sports Physicals?

A sports physical is a medical exam required by many schools prior to participation in sports. The exam is meant to identify any medical conditions that could potentially put your child at risk during physical activity.

Checkout this video:

The Physical Exam

Most sports physicals follow a standard format. The doctor or nurse will start by asking you about your medical history and doing a basic physical exam. This will include taking your blood pressure, checking your heart and lung sounds, and feeling your belly. They will also test your vision and hearing.

Checking In

When you arrive for your physical, you will need to check in with the staff and fill out some paperwork. This paperwork will ask for your personal information and medical history. Be sure to fill it out completely and accurately. The doctor will use this information to help make decisions about your care.

After you have checked in, a nurse or medical assistant will take you to a room and weigh you, take your blood pressure, and test your vision. You will then be asked to remove any clothing that will get in the way of the exam. You will be given a gown or drapes to cover yourself with.

Height and weight

The health care professional will also take your height and weight. Your Body Mass Index (BMI) will be calculated from these measurements. BMI is a number that represents how much body fat you have in relation to your height and weight.

Blood pressure and pulse

Blood pressure and pulse will be measured using a manual or automated device. The health care provider will wrap an inflatable cuff around your arm and place the stethoscope in your armpit. As the cuff deflates, you will hear your heartbeat through the stethoscope. The health care provider will record your blood pressure as two numbers--the systolic (top number) and diastolic (bottom number) pressures. Healthy blood pressure in adolescents is usually less than 120 systolic and less than 80 diastolic.

The Head-to-Toe Exam

A sports physical is a head-to-toe exam that helps determine if it’s safe for you to participate in a sport. The exam is also sometimes called a preparticipation physical examination (PPE). The doctor or other health care provider will ask about your medical history and do a physical examination.


Next, the doctor will check your eyes. They will look at the clarity of your cornea, the inner workings of your eye, and your pupils’ reactions to light. All of these things can give clues about your overall health.

Ears, nose, and throat

In order to check your hearing, the doctor or nurse will have you sit in a sound-proof booth and wear headphones. You will then be asked to push a button every time you hear a beep through the headphones.

The next part of the exam is a vision test. The doctor or nurse will ask you to read a Snellen chart, which measures how well you see at different distances. If you need glasses or contact lenses to see clearly, you will be given a prescription for them.

After that, the doctor or nurse will use a tongue depressor to look at your throat and tonsils. They will also feel your neck to check for lumps or thyroid problems.

Cardiovascular system

A thorough sports physical should include an evaluation of the cardiovascular system. This system includes the heart, blood vessels, and blood. The doctor or other healthcare provider will:

-check your pulse to evaluate your heart rate and rhythm
-listen to your heart and lungs with a stethoscope
-check your blood pressure
-evaluate your chest for any unusual changes in shape or size
-check for any murmurs or other abnormal heart sounds that may indicate a problem with the valves or chambers of the heart

Respiratory system

During the physical, your doctor will assess your respiratory system by:

listening to your lungs with a stethoscope
checking if your ribs move when you breathe in
checking if you have trouble breathing or if you get tired easily when exercising
You may also be asked to blow into a machine that measures how well your lungs are working. This is called spirometry.

Musculoskeletal system

The musculoskeletal system is made up of the bones, joints, and muscles of the body. The doctor or nurse will check your child’s range of motion and look for any deformities. They will also test the muscle strength and reflexes.

Neurological system

Athletes need to have a healthy nervous system in order to perform at their best. During the neurological exam, the doctor will test the athlete’s coordination and reflexes. The athlete may be asked to walk heel-to-toe in a straight line or stand on one leg with eyes open and then closed.


The doctor or nurse will start by looking at your skin for any rashes, sores, or other problems. They will also look for signs of dehydration, which can make it harder for your body to regulate its temperature. They may also check for any evidence of banned substances, such as needle marks from steroids.

Specialized Tests

A sports physical is a physical examination that is done to ensure that an athlete is physically fit to participate in their sport. The physical will also check for any injuries or health conditions that could potentially be aggravated by playing the sport. There are a few specialized tests that are often done as part of a sports physical.


X-rays are a type of high-energy radiation that can go through the body to create images of the bones and soft tissues inside. X-rays are most commonly used to look for broken bones or other problems with the bones, such as cancer or arthritis. They can also be used to look at the lungs, heart, and blood vessels.

Electrocardiogram (EKG)

An electrocardiogram records the electrical activity of your heart and is used to detect heart problems. The test is usually done as part of a routine physical exam, but it may also be done if you have symptoms of a heart problem, such as chest pain or an irregular heartbeat.

To prepare for the test, you may be asked to remove any jewelry or other objects that could interfere with the test. You will be asked to lie down on a table or bed, and sensors will be attached to your chest and limbs. The sensors will record your heart’s electrical activity and send it to a computer, which will generate a printout of your EKG results.

The test usually takes less than 10 minutes. There is no pain involved in the test, but you may feel mild discomfort from the sensors during the procedure.

Exercise stress test

An exercise stress test, also called a treadmill test or an exercise electrocardiogram, is a cardiology procedure that shows how your heart responds to physical activity.

The test is usually done on a treadmill or bike. You’ll start out walking or pedaling at a slow pace. The speed and incline will gradually get tougher.

You’ll be hooked up to an electrocardiogram (EKG) machine during the test. This monitors your heart rate and rhythm. A blood pressure cuff will also be placed around your arm to check your blood pressure during the test.

Bone density test

A bone density test can help diagnose osteoporosis, determine your risk for fractures, and monitor your bone loss. Bone density tests are quick, painless, noninvasive procedures that use low-dose X-rays to measure how much calcium and other minerals are present in a segment of your bone. The results of a bone density test are expressed as a T-score. Your T-score is the number of standard deviations above or below the mean bone density of a healthy young adult.

Blood tests

Your coach or the athletic trainer may recommend that you have a blood test before playing a sport. Blood tests can show if you have anemia (not enough red blood cells) or if you have other problems.

If you have sickle cell trait, you will have a blood test to check for hemoglobin S. This is a special kind of hemoglobin that can cause problems if you play a sport that has repeated bouts of strenuous activity, such as football or track.

You will also have a blood test to check for infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis and Hepatitis B and C.

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