What is Sports Medicine?

If your child sustains an injury during exercise, sports participation, or any type of physical activity, you may be advised to see a sports medicine healthcare provider for treatment.

About sports medicine specialists

Sports medicine healthcare providers have special training to restore function to injured patients so they can get moving again as soon as possible. They are also knowledgeable about preventing illness and injury in active people. Although sports medicine healthcare providers do work with professional athletes, they also treat children and teens involved in sports and adults who exercise for personal fitness. In addition, they treat people who have physically demanding jobs, like construction workers.

Young man with sports injury.

Sports medicine is not a medical specialty in itself. Most sports medicine healthcare providers are certified in internal medicine, emergency medicine, family medicine, or another specialty and then receive additional training. Others specialize in treating injuries in children and teens, whose growing bodies can be quite different from those of adults. They are generally board-certified in pediatrics or family medicine with additional training in sports medicine. Some, but not all, sports medicine healthcare providers have surgical training, too, usually as orthopedic surgeons.

Other professionals who are not healthcare providers may work in conjunction with a sports medicine healthcare provider to provide care:

  • Physical therapists. They help people rehabilitate and recover from injuries.

  • Certified athletic trainers. These trainers provide rehabilitative exercise routines to help patients regain strength and develop conditioning programs to prevent future injury

  • Nutritionists. They may assist with needed weight loss or weight gain and can provide dietary advice to help people improve their physical functioning 

Reasons to see a sports medicine specialist

Here are examples of injuries treated by sports medicine healthcare providers:

  • Ankle sprains
  • Fractures
  • Knee and shoulder injuries
  • Tendonitis
  • Exercise-induced asthma
  • Heat illness
  • Concussions
  • Eating disorders
  • Cartilage injuries

In addition, sports medicine healthcare providers can provide advice on nutrition, supplements, exercise, and injury prevention.

When to call a sports medicine healthcare provider

If your child sustains a significant injury during exercise or sports, it's probably best to seek immediate treatment at an emergency room, rather than wait to see a sports medicine specialist. Signs of a significant injury include severe pain, swelling, numbness, and an inability to put any weight on the injured area. If none of these symptoms is present, have your child rest at home and call your child's healthcare provider for guidance and a possible referral to a sports medicine specialist.

Most sports injuries do not need surgery. Treatment for a sports injury can include the use of pain relievers and keeping the injured area immobilized with a cast or sling. In some cases, a surgical procedure may be needed to repair torn tissue or realign bones. 

Online Medical Reviewer: Images Reviewed by Staywell medical art team. 
Online Medical Reviewer: Joseph, Thomas N., MD 
Online Medical Reviewer: Moloney, Amanda Jane (Johns), PA-C, MPAS, BBA 

Date Last Reviewed: 11/1/2016 
© 2000-2018 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

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