What is Sports Medicine?


If you or your child sustain an injury during exercise, sports participation, or any type of physical activity, you may be advised to see a sports medicine doctor for treatment. Sports medicine doctors can also diagnose and treat injuries sustained outside of sports or exercise but that prevent you from participating in these activities.

About sports medicine specialists

Sports medicine doctors have special training to restore function to injured patients so they can get moving again as soon as possible. They are also knowledgeable about preventing illness and injury in active people. Although sports medicine doctors do work with professional athletes, they also treat youngsters involved in sports and adults who exercise for personal fitness, as well as people who have physically demanding jobs, like construction workers.

Sports medicine is not a medical specialty in itself. Most sports medicine doctors are certified in internal medicine, emergency medicine, or another specialty and then receive additional training. Others specialize in treating injuries in children and teens, whose growing bodies can be quite different from those of adults. They are generally board-certified in pediatrics, with additional training in sports medicine. Some, but not all, sports medicine doctors have surgical training, too, usually as orthopedic surgeons.

Other professionals who are not doctors work in conjunction with a sports medicine doctor to provide care to provide a multidiscipinary approach, focusing on the whole patient.

Physical therapists

They help people rehabilitate and recover from injuries.

Certified athletic trainers

These trainers provide rehabilitative exercise routines to help patients regain strength and develop conditioning programs to prevent future injury


They may assist with needed weight loss or weight gain and who can provide dietary advice to help patients achieve optimal physical functioning

Reasons to see a sports medicine specialist

Here are examples of injuries treated by sports medicine doctors:

  • Ankle sprains
  • Fractures
  • Knee and shoulder injuries
  • Tendonitis
  • Exercise-induced asthma
  • Heat illness
  • Concussions
  • Eating disorders
  • Cartilage injuries

In addition, sports medicine doctors can provide advice on nutrition, supplements, exercise, and injury prevention.

When to call a sports medicine doctor

If you or your child sustain a significant injury during exercise or sports, it's probably best to seek immediate treatment at an emergency room, rather than wait to see a sports medicine specialist. Signs of a significant injury include severe pain, swelling, numbness, and an inability to put any weight on the injured area. If none of these symptoms is present, have your child rest at home and call your child's health care provider for guidance and a possible referral to a sports medicine specialist.

Most sports injuries do not require surgery. Treatment for a sports injury can include the use of pain relievers and keeping the injured area immobilized with a cast or sling. In some cases, a surgical procedure may be required to repair torn tissue or realign bones.

More about sports injuries.