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A Guide to Sports Medicine

Knowledge of sports medicine has become more commonplace during the 21st century, but what does the term mean?

Many people make the mistake of thinking that sports medicine applies solely to the treatment of injured professional athletes.

However, its scope goes way beyond the professional ranks. Read on as we take a closer look at sports medicine.

What is Sports Medicine?

In simple terms, sports medicine deals with physical fitness, conditioning, injury prevention and treatment of injuries caused by physical movement.

It combines general medical principles with other disciplines including sports science, exercise physiology, orthopaedics, biomechanics, sports nutrition and sports psychology.

A sports medicine team may include physicians, surgeons, athletic trainers, sports psychologists, physical therapists, nutritionists, coaches and personal trainers.

Sports medicine specialists generally treat two main types of conditions – acute and chronic. An acute condition is something like a sprain, strain or fracture.

By contrast, a chronic condition is something like arthritis or tendinitis that needs to be managed long-term.

Sports Medicine Specialist vs Sports Medicine Physician

While a sports medicine specialist and sports medicine physician work in the same medical area, there is an important distinction between the two.

A sports medicine specialist is any trained, licensed professional who participates in injury treatment or athletic training. Not all of them are doctors.

A sports medicine physician is a medical doctor who is a sports medicine specialist. They are initially certified in their own field before securing additional qualifications in sports medicine.

Some sports medicine physicians are orthopaedic surgeons, while many specialise in non-surgical fields such as the treatment of concussions.

Conditions such as asthma, food poisoning, nutritional deficiencies and other dietary concerns may also fall under the remit of sports medicine physicians.

Sports Medicine Physician vs Orthopaedic Surgeon

The main difference between a sports medicine physician and an orthopaedic surgeon is that the latter is a medical speciality.

Orthopaedic surgeons can secure a sports medicine qualification to become a sports medicine physician.

However, a sports medicine physician with a different speciality would not be qualified to perform orthopaedic surgery.

Orthopaedic surgeons are trained in performing surgery on the musculoskeletal system, which is crucial for treating many serious sports injuries.

Generally speaking, only 10 percent of sports injuries require surgery. Sprains, strains and injury prevention all need tackling differently.

Types of Sports Medicine Treatment

Sports medicine can be broadly split into four main areas. These are as follows:

  • Training/injury prevention
  • Non-surgical sports medicine
  • Physical therapy/rehabilitation
  • Sports medicine surgery

Regardless of whether you are a professional or amateur athlete, a structured training programme involving warm-ups, stretching and cooldowns is a big factor in preventing injury.

However, most athletes will suffer at least one injury when they compete, and this will most often be treated using non-surgical sports medicine techniques.

This may include compression, intermittent icing and rest, while pain relief medication can be used to reduce inflammation.

For more severe injuries, physical therapy or rehabilitation may be required. This is designed to help with pain management, improve strength and flexibility and restore full performance.

The worst-case scenario for athletes is sustaining an injury that requires surgery. In most cases, the procedure will be minimally invasive.

Surgery is considered the last resort, which is usually reserved for the athletes who are unfortunate enough to suffer extremely severe injuries.

What Qualifications are Needed to Work in Sports Medicine?

The qualifications needed to work in sports medicine vary by discipline but generally involve gaining a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in a related field.

Universities offer undergraduate and postgraduate courses in sports medicine, sports coaching, kinesiology, physiology and biomechanics.

Sports science is the speciality that underpins many elements of sports medicine, giving practitioners a broad knowledge of how the human body works.

Strength and conditioning is another core qualification that provides a pathway into a career as a sports medicine specialist.

Sports physiotherapy, sports psychology and sports nutrition are other disciplines that contribute massively to the sports medicine sector.

Sports Medicine – The Final Word

Sports medicine is hugely important to athletes at all levels, helping them recover more effectively from injuries and providing the preventative tools they need to keep performing.

As with many other disciplines, sports medicine is evolving rapidly, and this trend will continue over the coming years.

Fewer injuries and faster recoveries will help to improve on-field performance and thus boost everyone’s enjoyment of sport.

Now we’ve established how sports medicine works, check out our guide to sports nutrition.