What is sports medicine?

Freestyle skierSports medicine refers to the branch of medicine that deals with the conditions related to sports and exercise. It has a wide scope, and handles issues of physical fitness, treatment and prevention of sports and exercise related injuries, as well as physical therapy and rehabilitation. While professional sports teams have been employing team physicians for decades, sports medicine only emerged as a distinct specialty of medicine in the late 20th century.

Specialists in sports and exercise medicine will need to complete residency training in a relevant specialty, such as physical medicine and rehabilitation (physiatry), orthopedics, or family medicine, in addition to completing medical school. This will be followed by additional training in the form of a fellowship in Sport and Exercise Medicine.

 

What is the specialty of sports medicine practitioners?

This specialty focuses on the treatment of athletes and physically active individuals, with focus on exercise-related physiology, treatment of injuries, and education in musculoskeletal medicine. Sport and exercise medicine physicians are trained to treat injuries to the muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones. They also receive training in injury prevention and rehabilitation. Conditions that can affect athletes’ physical performance, such as diabetes and asthma, can also be managed by specialists in sports medicine.

The field of sport and exercise medicine essentially focuses on medical conditions that typically affect athletes and physically active individuals. While majority of the conditions treated by these specialists are related to the musculoskeletal system, conditions including the female athlete triad, unexplained underperformance syndrome, exercise-induced asthma, among others, are also managed by these physicians. Sports medicine physicians are also employed to maintain athletes at peak performance by observing and monitoring athletes’ physical status.

In recent years, sports medicine specialists have become public health advocates. Multiple large-scale studies have conclusively demonstrated the harms of a sedentary lifestyle, and the various associations of sports and exercise medicine specialists have been active in the promotion of daily exercise and healthy living.

 

What are the conditions commonly treated by sports medicine specialists?

The clinical cases handled by sports medicine specialists are normally related to the musculoskeletal system, particularly injuries related to physical activities. These include common conditions such as muscle sprains, cramps and bruises, to more severe cases such as tears of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), fractures and concussions. Specialists are trained to provide emergency treatment for acute injuries, as well as to provide long-term treatment and rehabilitation of progressive conditions, such as runner’s knee and tennis elbow.

 

What are the therapeutic interventions offered by sports medicine specialists?

Specialists in this field are trained to give a wide variety of treatment options. These can range from conservative, medical options to surgical options, depending on the training and education of the specialist.

Prevention

Sports medicine specialists are trained to prevent injury from happening. For specialists employed by professional teams, this may mean close monitoring of the athletes’ physical and mental status, as well as routine observation and analysis of the athletes’ performance. Specialists may also be employed to guide athletes in the proper manner of training to prevent injuries and other adverse events.

Conservative Treatments

Sports medicine specialists normally opt for conservative treatments before other options are considered. This usually deals with the non-surgical approach: medications to treat pain from injuries include anti-inflammatory medications, and recovery from injuries may be hastened with a
comprehensive program of physical therapy and rehabilitation. Specialists are also trained in providing emergency responses to acute injuries. They can provide splints to athletes who get bone fractures or other injuries.

Interventional Treatments

Specialists in this field are also trained to provide invasive interventions. These include the injection of corticosteroids for pain relief and for healing, and innovative treatments such as platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy, or cellular grafting with amniotic stem cells. Specialists may also provide interventions for pain management, which include neurolytic blocks and radiofrequency ablation. Sports and exercise medicine specialists are also trained to aspirate excess fluid from the joints, as well as to handle stress fractures, and conditions of the spine and back.

Special Populations

Physicians in the field of sports and exercise medicine are trained to watch out for the particular concerns of special populations. These include athletes, the elderly, and children.

Training

Specialists are trained to maximize physical performance of athletes. Sports and exercise medicine specialists will be able to provide programs to improve athletic performance, while at the same time avoiding injury.

 

 

References

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Mishra A, Harmon K, Woodall J, Vieira A. Sports medicine applications of platelet rich plasma. Curr Pharm Biotechnol. 2012 Jun;13(7):1185-95.

Moran CJ, Barry FP, Maher SA, Shannon FJ, Rodeo SA. Advancing regenerative surgery in orthopaedic sports medicine: the critical role of the surgeon. Am J Sports Med. 2012 Apr;40(4):934-44. doi: 10.1177/0363546511426677.

Speed C. High-performance sports medicine. Clin Med. 2013 Feb;13(1):47-9.