Common Sports Conditions

Physical conditions that can affect people who participate in sports and physical activities range from mild breathlessness and cramps to potentially very serious conditions such as hypothermia.

The common sports conditions included on this page are expected knowledge for some GCSE PE courses, though this is not necessarily a complete list (check with your teacher or exam board to find out what you need to know for your particular test or exam). Knowledge of these conditions is also useful general information for anyone who participates in physical activities or takes care of other people who enjoy sports - either competitively or just for leisure.


Description (general)


What to do* ?

  • Blisters

Blisters are a type of soft tissue injury included here as they are common and useful to know about. An un-broken blister is a closed wound but a broken blister is an open wound.

Blisters can form in many places on the body but occur most commonly on the hands and feet e.g. due to footwear or applying force when gripping/moving objects using the hands.


  • Friction between skin and another surface e.g. a hard edge of new or poorly fitting footwear - most common cause in sporting situations.

  • Some burns can result in blisters.
  • Blisters can also form as a result of various contagious diseases. In that case the cause is due to the pathogen, e.g. virus, and treatment is as medically directed.

For simple friction blisters only:

  • If the outer skin (raised blister) is unbroken, protect the area with cotton wool or padding. Don't continue with the activity or equipment that caused the friction / blister.
  • If the blister is broken it needs to be treated as an open wound and protected from risk of infection.
  • Large blisters may need to be drained by a medical practitioner.

For other blisters seek medical help.

  • Cramp

Cramp, or more specifically "muscle cramp" is a sudden and sometimes extreme and painful contraction of skeletal muscle (i.e. muscles that move limbs, joints and tissues and are usually under conscious control) that the person cannot relax.


  • It may be difficult to identify a precise cause because muscle cramp can occur in many different situations - including hard physical exercise, yet - at other times, total relaxation.
  • Temporary restriction of blood - and therefore oxygen and other important substances - to the affected area (possible cause / contributory factor)
  • Insufficient minerals in the diet (possible cause / contributory factor)
  • Gently stretching the affected muscle manually then encouraging blood flow by massaging it may be helpful (depending on the muscle and assuming no other complications).
  • Dehydration

Dehydration is the excessive loss of water and essential salts and minerals from the body. (It is normal for the body to release fluids (water containing other substances such as salts etc.) e.g. in the form of sweat. Such loss can become excessive during intense exercise and/or in extreme heat if fluids are not replenished by eating and/or drinking appropriately.)

Indications of dehydration include considerable sweating, a rapid heart rate, dry mouth, sunken eyes, headaches, dizziness, weakness and sometimes vomiting.

  • Loss of fluids (water + solutes) via sweating, e.g. "excessive perspiration".
  • Smaller contributory effect of other losses of fluids e.g. micturation (urine includes both water and salts and minerals as well as other solutes).
  • Insufficient intake of fluids e.g. when long-distance running.
  • Replenish the body with sufficient appropriate fluids (not just water although water alone may help initially if it is the only appropriate safe drinking fluid available).
  • Exhaustion

The physical condition called "exhaustion" involves more than just feeling very tired. Indications can include:

  • Can be due to extreme of temperature (see hyperthermia and hypothermia below).
  • Over-exertion e.g. if the demands of the activity exceeded the limits of the physical condition of the participant.
  • Some underlying / on-going medical conditions may be a contributory factor, hence questions about medical conditions may be asked before joining some extreme outdoor activities - especially those demanding high-endurance in remote locations.
  • Treatment responses often depend on the location / environment, hence what is available and/or possible.
  • Call for assistance.
  • If exhaustion is thought to be due to temperature extremes make appropriate adjustments.
  • Make the person comfortable.
  • Offer appropriate fluids.
  • Pause the activity except if it is necessary to move to a safer place and the person is able to do so, e.g. walking to the nearest road for transport from a hiking expedition.
  • headaches,
  • dizziness,
  • extreme physical weakness (all of which are also associated with dehydration - see above)
  • loss of co-ordination of movement
  • fainting
  • weak pulse / heart-rate
  • dilated pupils
  • pale moist skin

Unlikely in ordinary school PE lessons, more likely to occur in extreme environments e.g. outdoor pursuits over long distances.

  • Hyperthermia

Hyperthermia is also called "heat exhaustion". The main symptom is raised body temperature which, in the case of sports people is often due to excessive effort and to dehydration (i.e. insufficient water within the body due to a combination of insufficient intake of water and loss of fluid from the body e.g. due to considerable sweating). Hyperthermia can lead to loss of co-ordination and shock.

  • Over-heating of the body.
  • Insufficient intake of fluids e.g. water or sports drinks.
  • Can occur during long distance running such as marathons.
  • Rest the person in a cool place
  • Make suitable cool drinks available.
  • Seek medical assistance.
  • Hypothermia

Hypothermia is the lowering of body temperature below 35oC.

The effects of hypothermia can include muscular rigidity (sometimes described as "ceasing-up"), irregular heart beats and in extreme cases unconsciousness may follow.

  • Can happen during outdoor activities, e.g. in very cold environments on land such as when hiking in mountain terrain or extreme weather or as a result of immersion in very cold water such as when participating in water-sports such as canoeing.
  • In general if using equipment and clothing that is insufficient for maintenance of minimum healthy body temperature in the conditions.
  • Return the body to a normal temperature (of approximately 36-37oC) - in a steady way; e.g. not with sudden high heat at one point or for just a very short time only.
  • Shock

Symptoms can include:

  • clammy skin,
  • shallow breathing,
  • rapid breathing,
  • sense of dizziness,
  • dizziness with impulse to vomit,
  • risk of unconsciousness
  • Insufficient blood circulating around the body.
  • Stop any bleeding
  • Reassure the casualty
  • Place him/her in the
    recovery position
  • Seek medical assistance.
  • Stitch

A stitch is a non-medical term used to refer to a sharp pain at the side of the abdomen or lower-chest following and as a result of physical activity. It is a type of cramp of the diaphragm that restricts deep breathing.

  • Physical exertion.
  • Common suggestions are to breathe in deeply then breathe out slowly and repeat.
  • Bending and straightening.
  • Winding

Winding may be described as a sudden sensation of shock in the upper-abdomen region of the body due to spasm (temporary paralysis) of the diaphragm. Indications of winding including bending over at the waist, temporary difficulty in both breathing and speaking.

  • Impact (e.g. due to a collision with another player) on the concentration of nerves in the upper abdomen of the body - a region called the "solar plexus".
  • Sit in a relaxed position (some advice states a reclining position)
  • Take deep breaths
  • Loosening any tight clothing may also help relaxation for recovery
  • Recover at own pace before resuming activity

What is missing from this list ?

The list of common sports conditions shown above only includes common soft tissue conditions that may occur during gentle to extreme exercise. Hard tissue injuries (i.e. types of fractures) can also occur during sporting activities. Other conditions to be aware of include complications of existing medical conditions of sports players, e.g. hypoglycaemia or hyperglycemia due to diabetes. It is important to be aware of possible complications that could arise due to your own existing medical conditions and those of anyone you are responsible for while they are participating in supervised physical activities. Appropriate management of medical conditions can be particularly important when taking part in physical activites and especially extreme sports.

This is the end of the page about common sports conditions for GCSE Physical Education (GCSE PE).
See the other pages in this section listed top-right and effects of exercise on muscles and effects of exercise on circulation.

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