The terms “sports medicine” and “sports medicine doctor” are commonly used by athletes, coaches, trainers, patients, and even other doctors. However, it is really fairly unclear as to exactly what these, and quite a few other terms are referring to. Listed below are the five most common questions, and their answers, in hopes of giving you some guidance through the maze of sports medicine.
1. What is Sports Medicine?
Sports Medicine is the branch of medicine that is concerned with the treatment of injuries or illness resulting from athletic or recreational activities. Sports Medicine involves the prevention and treatment of injuries to athletes and other physically active people, as well as the use of exercise for recovery from non-sports injuries. Orthopedic (musculoskeletal system) surgeons (MDs) often specialize in sports medicine. The phrase “sports medicine” is not specific to one career/profession. Instead, it encompasses a group of professionals from various disciplines whose focus is the health of an athlete. Athletes can be all ages and play on all different levels (youth, high school, collegiate, recreational, and professional).
Orthopedic sports medicine is a specific area in the sports medicine family that is concerned with the investigation, preservation, and restoration by medical, surgical, and rehabilitative means to all structures of the musculoskeletal system affected by athletic activity. While sports medicine originally began as an offshoot of several broader fields, designed to treat athletes in a way that allowed early, safe and efficient return to the playing field, the techniques and principles of sports medicine and now being brought back to general medicine. These methods are now being used to bring workers back to work, or simply to restore function to athletes and non athletes alike, to allow for efficient return to the activities of daily living.
2. What is a Sports Medicine Physician?
A Sports Medicine physician is a doctor with specialized training who promotes lifelong fitness and wellness, and encourages prevention of illness and injury. This physician helps the patient maximize function and minimize disability and time away from sports, work, or school.
He or she is a leader of the sports medicine team, which also includes specialty physicians and surgeons, athletic trainers, physical therapists, coaches, parents, other personnel, and, of course, the athlete.
After completing residency, they obtain 1-2 years of additional training in sports medicine through accredited fellowship (subspecialty) programs in Sports Medicine. Physicians, who are board certified in their specialty, such as Orthopedic Surgery, are then eligible to take a subspecialty qualification examination in Sports Medicine. Additional forums, which add to the expertise of a Sports Medicine Physician, include continuing education in sports medicine, and membership and participation in sports medicine societies. Many specialties including general medicine, family practice, physical medicine and rehabilitation, and of course, orthopedic surgery, offer advanced training and subspecialty certification in sports medicine. Each specialty brings its own expertise to the field.
3. Do Sports Medicine Physicians only treat competitive athletes?
No, Sports Medicine Physicians are ideal physicians for the non-athlete as well, and are excellent resources for the individual who wishes to become active or begin an exercise program. For the "weekend warrior" or "industrial athlete" who experiences an injury, the same expertise used for the competitive athlete can be applied to return the individual as quickly as possible to full function. Most sports medicine physicians treat non athletes as well. In doing so, they adapt the techniques and protocols that allow for athletes to regain a high level of function, to achieve the same goal for non-athletes in the normal daily lives. From a worker injured on the job, to a stay at home mother hurt while playing with her kids, any patient can benefit from the application of sports medicine techniques to their problems.
4. What are the most common Sports Medicine Injuries?
Most Sports Medicine injuries fall into one of two categories: acute and chronic, or overuse. Acute injuries occur suddenly and are the result of a collision, a fall, or a simple twist. Chronic, or overuse, injuries are the results of repetitive stress placed upon a single body part. When repetitive stresses are increased too rapidly or with too much intensity and the body is not adequately prepared, an injury occurs. When looking at the most common injuries, some of them are acute, and some are overuse. The seven most common sports injuries in order are:
• Ankle sprain
• Groin pull
• Hamstring strain
• Shin splints
• Knee injury: ACL tear
• Knee injury: Patellofemoral Syndrome
• Knee injury: meniscus (cartilage) tear
• Tennis elbow: lateral epicondylitis
• Shoulder injury: Rotator cuff tear
• Shoulder injury: AC separation
• Shoulder injury: Dislocation
5. Does a Sports Medicine Orthopedist only treat injuries?
While a great deal of a sports medicine specialist’s time is spent treating injuries in athletes and non-athletes alike, much of the time is also spent on other responsibilities. Much of the focus of sports medicine is on injury prevention. Another large area of concern is the area of conditioning and optimizing performance. Educating and coordinating coaches, athletes and the other members of the sports medicine team is also the responsibility of the sports physician. Family doctors on the team often deal other issues such as cardiac evaluations, skin conditions, infections and asthma, but orthopedic sports doctors generally limit their scope to musculoskeletal problems.
Orthopedic sports medicine specialists…
• Condition and train athletes.
• Provide fitness advice relating to athletic performance.
• Give advice on athletic performance and the impact of dietary supplements, pharmaceuticals, and nutrition on athletes’ short- and long-term health and performance.
• Coordinate medical care within athletic team settings, including other health care professionals, such as athletic trainers, physical therapists, and non-orthopedic physicians.
• Conduct on-the-field evaluation and management of illnesses and injuries.
Orthopedic sports medicine specialists have knowledge of…
• Soft tissue biomechanics, injury healing, and repair.
• Treatment options, both surgical and non-surgical, as they relate to sports-specific injuries and competition.
• Principles and techniques of rehabilitation that enable the athlete to return to competition as quickly and safely as possible.
• Knowledge of athletic equipment and orthotic devices (braces, foot supports, etc.) and their use in prevention and management of athletic injuries.
After an athletic injury, initial care often consists of Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. After a short time if the pain or swelling persist, or there is an inability to return to sports or regular activity, it is probably time to see the doctor. With the information provided, hopefully the choice of which doctor see will not be as confusing.
Dr. Michael L. Gross, the founder and director of Active Orthopedics and Sports Medicine P.A., www.ActiveOrthopedics.com
, is the section chief for sports medicine and the orthopedic director for the center for sports medicine at Hackensack University Medical Center. Recognizing the importance of nutrition and alternative health in both sports medicine and overall wellness, The Active Group, LLC has added the Active Center for Health and Wellness, www.activecenterforhealthandwellness.com
which features one on one fitness training, diet coaching, massage therapy, bio-identical hormone replacement therapy, anti-aging and preventative medicine, and aesthetic medical services.