Sports medicine (sometimes called “sports and exercise medicine”) is a medical specialty that deals with the treatment and prevention of injuries related to sports and fitness. Healthcare professionals who work in this interdisciplinary medical field focus not only on treating sports-related injuries, but also on injury prevention, rehabilitation, nutrition, and performance training in order to help athletes improve their game.
A sports medicine specialty team often involves physicians who are trained in sports medicine, as well as orthopedic surgeons, physical therapists, trainers, coaches, and others. The team works together to help patients get back into playing shape as safely and quickly as possible.
Sports Medicine Benefits
Specialized Care: Sports medicine physicians are specially trained to care for athletes, fitness professionals, and active individuals. They understand the impacts of sports and exercise on their patients’ bodies, such as concussions and repetitive motion injuries, and they work closely with orthopedic surgeons and physical therapists to develop tailored treatment plans that suit each patient’s specific needs.
- Enhanced Injury and Reinjury Prevention: Sports medicine physicians have an in-depth understanding of how athletes use their bodies during practice and play; as such, they provide patients with expert advice and instructions on preventing injuries and avoiding re-injuring a previously damaged area. They help professional and novice athletes alike make important “return to play” decisions, conducting pre-participation physical exams to ensure their patients are ready to resume activities.
- Cutting-Edge Treatment Options: From leading-edge reconstructive surgical techniques to regenerative medicine procedures like platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy and stem cell therapy, sports medicine physicians and surgeons utilize the latest techniques and procedures to help restore function to injured areas.
- Enhanced Athletic Performance: Sports medicine specialists often play a role in developing tailored training programs constructed around an athlete’s individual needs, strengths, and weaknesses. These experts have the knowledge and tools to evaluate an athlete’s anatomical strengths and weaknesses, make training regimen recommendations, and identify areas for improvement.
Sports Injury Treatments
Nonetheless, injuries happen. The PRICE method is usually the first line of treatment for less severe injuries, such as sprains and strains. The PRICE method involves:
- Protection: Applying bandages, wraps, splints, etc., can help protect tissues from further damage.
- Rest: Rest is a critical but often overlooked part of the healing process. Your sports medicine specialist will work with you on a plan to gradually reintroduce activities.
- Ice: Icing an injured area for 24-72 hours on and off after an injury helps reduce swelling and pain.
- Compression: Pressure also helps reduce swelling and inflammation; athletes commonly use compression bands around their knees, elbows, and other previously injured or vulnerable areas.
- Elevation: Gravity helps drain fluid away from injured tissues to reduce pain, swelling, and inflammation; a simple but effective method.
Medications, including acetaminophen (Tylenol) and NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as ibuprofen and naproxen, can reduce inflammation and help with pain management, but these are meant as temporary solutions.
Regenerative medicine harnesses the body’s own tissues to help promote self-healing. Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy involves isolating and concentrating platelets from the patient’s own blood and injecting it into the injured area to initiate healing. Stem cell therapy involves using stem cells (usually from bone marrow) to promote healing and regenerate tissue.
What is the difference between a Sports Medicine Physician and an Orthopedic Surgeon?
Both are well trained in musculoskeletal medicine. Sports Medicine Physicians specialize in the non-operative treatment of musculoskeletal conditions. Orthopedic surgeons are also trained in the operative treatment of these conditions. However, approximately 90% of all sports injuries are non-surgical. The Sports Medicine Physician can maximize non-operative treatment, guide appropriate referrals to physical and occupational therapies, and if necessary, expedite referral to an orthopedic/sports surgeon.
Q: Do Sports Medicine Physicians only treat competitive athletes?
A: No, Sports Medicine Physicians are ideally suited to provide comprehensive medical care 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.
Sports Medicine: Playing a Vital Role in Our Modern Health-Conscious World
The importance of sports medicine in games and sports cannot be overstated. Humans have been playing sports since the dawn of civilization, yet more and more people today recognize the importance of exercise and physical activity for good health. Sports that have once been reserved for the fittest and most talented among us are increasingly being embraced by everyday people. This makes sports medicine, with its comprehensive focus on all issues surrounding sports and exercise, from injury prevention to performance training, more important and relevant than ever.
A sports medicine physician has significant specialized training in both the treatment and prevention of illness and injury. They are ideally suited to provide comprehensive medical care for athletes, sports teams or active individuals who are simply looking to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
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