Angie's LIST Guide to
Sports Medicine

Sports medicine professionals are specially trained to diagnosis, treat and help patients prevent injuries that occur during sports. They also focus on the therapeutic aspects of everyday physical activity.
 

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Sports medicine specialists can spot and treat athlete injuries. The medical professionals can also help athletes with prevention techniques in order to avoid future injuries. (Photo by Stephanie Maulding)
Sports medicine specialists can spot and treat athlete injuries. The medical professionals can also help athletes with prevention techniques in order to avoid future injuries. (Photo by Stephanie Maulding)
 
 

What is sports medicine?

Sports medicine physicians focus on health care for physically active people. Physicians in this field traditionally train as doctors who, after completing their residency training, go on to fellowship training in sports and exercise medicine. They work can then work exclusively with an athletic team or sports program, be a part of a group practice or work in a private office. Their patients include both professional athletes and amateurs.

In addition to treating patients, primary care physicians in this field often consult athletic trainers, coaches and athletic directors on injury prevention and performance enhancement.

The American Osteopathic Academy of Sports Medicine (AOASM) separates this practice of medicine into two general areas: surgical and primary care. Surgical involves the repair of damaged tendons, ligaments and joints. Primary care provides treatment, rehabilitation and nutritional counseling to support physical health and performance.

Other sports medicine professionals

In addition to physicians, sports medicine includes other professionals, such as certified athletic trainers (ATC) and certified athletic therapists (CAT), who care for and prevent athletic injury or illness and work with the team physician, coach, parent and athlete. They provide immediate emergency injury assessment and make unbiased sideline decisions when an injury occurs while playing sports.

Other professionals include physical therapists and nutritionists who have been specially trained to handle sports-related cases.

Physical therapists who specialize in sports work with both the recreational and professional athlete. These professionals focus on rehabilitation. After evaluating a patient's strength, range of motion, balance, posture, flexibility, mechanics, coordination, endurance and overall mobility, they devise a specific treatment plan.

Nutritionists in this field specifically target the biochemical and physiological needs of the athlete. Specialized nutrition focuses on enhanced physical performance, muscle-building and recovery. They work with coaches, physicians and trainers to help patients meet their goals.

Common sports-related injuries

Injuries suffered while competing in sports or exercise can happen due to accidents, poor training, improper gear or simply not being in shape.

The first step to take in case of an injury is to stop playing. Continuing to play or exercise can cause more harm. In many cases, treatment begins with the RICE method. RICE is a mnemonic that stands for rest, ice, compression and elevation. This combination works to relieve pain, reduce swelling and speed healing. Depending on the injury, other treatments may include pain relievers, immobilizing the area or surgery.

Common injuries include sprains and strains, fractures, dislocations, knee injuries, shin splints, fractures and dislocated joints.

Sprains and strains are similar injuries, yet they involve different parts of the body. Sprains are the stretching or tearing of ligaments, the bands of fibrous tissue that connect one bone to another. Ankle sprains are common, as are ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) sprains. The ACL in the knee can rupture when the knee twists suddenly.

Strains, on the other hand, are a stretching or tearing of a muscle or tendon. Tendons connect muscles to bones. The hamstring and lower back are common locations of strains.

Shin splints involve the tissue that attaches the muscle of the lower leg to the shin bone. Wearing improper gear or too much exercise can cause it to pull away or become inflamed.

Knee problems are especially common. Aside from ACL sprains, overuse can cause soreness or weakness in the knees. If the knee swells or is painful for more than 48 hours, it is important to consult a professional.

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