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What Is Sports Medicine and Is It Only for Athletes?

What do you think of first when you hear the phrase “sports medicine”? Does your mind immediately conjure up images of famous, record-setting, elite athletes like Tom Brady, LeBron James, or Simone Biles and injuries they have suffered like a torn ACL? Perhaps you think of your favorite college sports team and the work that must go into keeping those players safe and healthy. Maybe you think of the personal trainers at your local gym and the care they take to protect clients from injury?

If you do immediately associate sports medicine with elite athletes, you’re not completely wrong. However, athletes are not the only patients that sports medicine specialists work with. A common misconception is that sports medicine only applies to serious or professional athletes and not the average individual living an active lifestyle. Many sports medicine providers and surgeons treat patients of varying activity levels.

With that in mind, let’s dive in a little deeper so you can understand what sports medicine is and how it might be beneficial to you and your overall health.

What is sports medicine?

Sports medicine, also known as sports and exercise medicine (SEM), is a multidisciplinary field in healthcare that focuses primarily on the musculoskeletal and cardiovascular systems to help address and prevent injuries sustained during physical activity. Sports medicine providers are specialized in helping patients return to function whether it’s from a torn ACL, rotator cuff, or other soft tissue injuries. If you ever suffer an injury related to physical activity – say, from lifting heavy boxes while moving – you may be advised to see a sports medicine doctor to help your recovery. When you think of sports medicine, think of injuries to your soft tissue such as muscles, ligaments, and tendons.

There is not one single definition of sports medicine, and the field is not yet recognized as its own medical specialty in the United States. Instead, most sports medicine doctors and surgeons are certified in another specialty such as orthopedics or internal medicine, and then go on to pursue additional special training through a fellowship.

Do all orthopedic surgeons specialize in sports medicine?

In orthopedic medicine, sports medicine is considered a subspecialty in which doctors receive advanced training to treat injuries sustained during sports, activities, and exercise. However, not all orthopedic surgeons specialize in sports medicine. Orthopedic sports medicine specialists are often well-versed in both orthopedic and non-orthopedic issues, like sports-related concussions and cardiovascular health. They may also be more likely to provide both surgical and non-surgical solutions to their patients.

Keep in mind that there are other professionals who may not surgically treat injuries directly but play important roles in sports medicine, including physical therapists, nutritionists, and sports psychologists. For instance, a patient may be referred by a Sports Medicine Orthopedic Surgeon to a physical therapist to address an injury that may not require surgery.

Who can benefit from sports medicine?

As mentioned above, sports medicine can benefit both athletes and non-athletes alike.

For athletes, especially those who are highly competitive and hoping to get back to their pre-injury form, sports medicine doctors can help them avoid future injuries and determine the appropriate recovery timeline. It’s also common for athletes to regularly see sports medicine professionals. Many college-level and professional teams employ sports medicine doctors.

When it comes to non-athletes, sports medicine doctors can help address any injuries related to sports, exercise, and overuse. Even recreational exercise can result in an injury or strain, and patients could benefit from seeing a sports medicine specialist. Sports medicine providers may also see patients who work physically demanding jobs, such as mechanics or construction workers.

When should you see a sports medicine specialist?

If you’re suffering from a sports-related injury, having trouble with physical movement, or just looking to improve your form or activity level, you may benefit from a visit with a sports medicine specialist. Patients starting up an exercise routine may also find sports medicine helpful for exploring injury prevention.

Suffering from joint pain or injury and want to further explore your options? Check out Anika’s sports medicine portfolio here and use our Find a Doctor tool to find a local expert familiar with our solutions.

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