Did you know that there are doctors whose job is to treat athletes? Their training is focused on keeping people who play sports healthy, whether those players compete at the professional, amateur or purely weekend warrior level.
Sports medicine physicians require special training. They often work with orthopedic surgeons, who can treat more severe injuries suffered by athletes. Sports medicine is an exciting and growing field, with so many people engaging in sports and the demand for expertise rising.
What Does a Sports Medicine Doctor Treat?
Sports medicine doctors can treat a range of injuries. Perhaps most notably, they monitor athletes’ conditions and tell them when it’s OK to return to play after an injury or illness. They perform exams to clear athletes to participate in a sport. They can also advise athletes on nutrition and provide suggestions for beginning a new exercise program for sedentary people. Some of the most common conditions sports medicine doctors treat include:
- Concussions or other traumatic brain injuries.
- Overuse injuries, such as tennis or golfer’s elbow, stress fractures and tendonitis.
- Sprains and dislocations.
They can also help athletes navigate acute illness or create an injury prevention strategy.
How to Become a Sports Medicine Physician
Becoming a sports medicine physician requires years of study and constant continuing education efforts. You need a board certification in one of the following areas:
- Family medicine.
- Internal medicine.
- Physical medicine/rehabilitation.
- Emergency medicine.
You also need to undertake a fellowship for training in sports medicine. Fellowships typically last a year or two. Afterward, you’ll have to pass the national sports medicine certification exam. You must recertify every 10 years.
Sports medicine doctors often lead a team that treats athletes, which may also include physical therapists, surgeons and athletic trainers.
What Does a Sports Medicine Doctor Do?
Some sports medicine doctors work only with one team or one college. Others have practices where they can assist any athletes who walk in the door.
Sports medicine physicians often collaborate closely with orthopedic surgeons. They work together on diagnoses and treatments for acute and overuse injuries. Sports medicine doctors can provide suggestions for minimally invasive alternatives to surgery. If a patient has exhausted other means of treatment, they may be referred to the surgeon.
Sports physicians want to get athletes back on the field or court as quickly as possible. Because of that, the injury prevention part of their practice can be just as critical as treating an injury. Athletes don’t want to be sidelined. They want to be out playing, and many will do anything to return to their sport.
Over recent years, sports medicine has expanded beyond professional teams to offer everyday Americans the same specialty as those who play sports for a living. Since so many people care about staying in shape and pushing themselves in 5Ks or bike races, they can benefit from a doctor who knows how to treat athletic injuries.