Sports medicine doctors work to help injured patients resume their regular activities. Although their name suggests that they only work with athletes, these versatile physicians treat children and adults of all activity levels. Some sports medicine doctors are orthopedic surgeons, while others are primary care physicians with a detailed knowledge of sports injuries and rehab strategies.
Sports medicine physicians provide many services to their patients, such as:
- Diagnosis and treatment of sports-related injuries
- Medication management
- Creation of detailed treatment plans
Sports medicine physicians work closely with physical therapists, athletic trainers, and other healthcare professionals to ensure patients get back on their feet as quickly as possible after an injury. They can also advise patients on how to prevent exercise-related injuries, and how to avoid getting injured at work.
What kind of injuries do sports medicine doctors treat?
Before we focus on all the different issues that sports medicine physicians can treat, let’s take a look at the two different types of injuries:
- Acute injuries are sudden, and in many cases, severe. An example is a sprained ankle from a fall while hiking. Without proper treatment, an acute injury can worsen with time and lead to long-term health problems.
- Chronic injuries, on the other hand, usually develop over a long period of time: Many conditions, such as tennis elbow, can even take years to show up. Like acute injuries, chronic injuries can lead to big trouble if left untreated.
An experienced sports medicine doctor can help you overcome almost any type of injury, regardless of whether it’s acute or chronic. Let’s take a look at some of the most common injuries in greater detail.
Sprains are a painful acute injury that can impact many areas of the body including wrists, ankles, and knees. Ankle sprains, in particular, are extremely common. In fact, over 850,000 of them are estimated to occur in the United States each year! A sprain occurs when a ligament is injured during sports, hiking, or other daily activities.
Sports medicine doctors offer many treatments to help a patient overcome a sprain as quickly as possible. Many doctors still prefer tried-and-true RICE treatment, which involves rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Medication is often prescribed as well. The doctor may also refer a patient to physical therapy to ensure they regain their full range of motion.
Fractures, also known as broken bones, are another acute injury that sports medicine physicians treat. Over one million fractures occur in the United States each year. Fractures can cause pain, swelling, and even the complete inability to move an affected limb.
Some common causes of this painful injury are:
- Car accidents
- Blows to a bone
Without proper treatment, fractures can be debilitating. However, sports medicine physicians have perfected several different treatments. Fractures are usually treated with casts or splints to hold the bone in place while it heals. In more extreme cases, doctors will perform surgery to place screws or pins into the bone.
The knee is the largest joint in the body. Its many tendons and ligaments are susceptible to a wide variety of acute and chronic injuries. Sports injuries that impact the knee are very common, and sports medicine physicians are familiar with treating many different issues such as:
- Osgood-Schlatter disease
Since there are so many different types of knee injuries, sports medicine doctors employ a broad range of techniques to treat them: Bracing, physical therapy, medication, and surgery are all common.
Like the knee, the shoulder is made up of many different tendons and ligaments that work together in unison: Which means there’s a lot that can go wrong! The rotator cuff, in particular, is especially susceptible to injury since it’s used more frequently than many other areas of the body. Severe shoulder injuries can lead to muscle weakness and permanent numbness.
Some of the most common shoulder injuries are:
- Overuse injuries
- Tendon rupture
- Pinched tissue
Cortisone injections, medication, and electrical stimulation are just a few of the techniques a sports medicine physician may use to treat acute and chronic shoulder injuries.
Tendonitis and Tendinosis
Tendonitis is an acute injury that usually lasts for 10 days or less. However, without proper treatment, it can lead to the chronic issue of tendinosis.
The areas most commonly impacted by tendonitis and tendinosis are the:
Tendon injuries are common in runners and people who engage in repetitive motions regularly. Luckily, physical therapy is an extremely effective treatment for tendon issues. However, in more severe cases, braces, medication, and cortisol injections may be necessary.
When a bone is forced out of position by some sort of trauma, a dislocation occurs. This is another injury that is very common in competitive sports, but car accidents and falls are a frequent cause as well.
The areas of the body most susceptible to dislocation are the:
Dislocation is a serious medical problem that requires immediate treatment. A skilled sports medicine doctor knows how to reposition the bone with the least amount of pain possible. In some cases, a sling or splint is provided as well. Medication is another important tool when treating dislocations.
Most football players are familiar with the dangers of concussions. This brain injury is caused by a direct blow to the head, or in more unusual cases, a sharp turn of the neck.
If a sports medicine doctor suspects a concussion, they’ll test a patient’s:
In severe cases, such as a car accident, doctors can order tests such as an MRI or CT scan to ensure a patient isn’t suffering from a brain bleed. However, in most cases, a concussion will heal on its own with proper rest. Many times, doctors recommend patients to take some time off work or school and avoid physical activity for a few days.
Exercise-induced asthma is a temporary narrowing of the airways that occurs during exercise. Patients experience bronchospasms that cause difficulty breathing, which can be dangerous without proper treatment.
Treating exercise-induced asthma can be difficult because symptoms are usually only present during and immediately after exercise. A sports medicine physician can order a pulmonary function test so the patient’s breathing can be observed in a medical setting. Depending on the results of the test, they can prescribe rescue inhalers that provide immediate relief and allow the patient to resume normal exercise.
Sports medicine physicians treat a wide variety of issues.
The importance of sports medicine is undeniable, and sports medicine doctors treat many other conditions that aren’t included on this list: These are simply the most common problems they encounter on a regular basis. By pursuing an exciting career in sports medicine, you’ll become an expert on a broad range of health conditions that impact people of all age groups and activity levels!
Erica Ciko Campbell
Bachelor of Science (B.S.), Biology| Utica College
Associate of Science (A.S.)| Herkimer County Community College
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