Health professionals who specialize in sports medicine are a valuable resource for athletes and non-athletes alike. From the weekend warrior to the industrial athlete, sports medicine physicians provide the medical care needed to return individuals to their activities as quickly and safely as possible.
The field of sports medicine covers everything from treating injuries to educating patients on the optimal ways to exercise. Read on to learn more about this fast-growing allied healthcare profession.
As children and adults head back to school and fall sports season begins, it’s important to remember that injuries can happen — especially when an athlete isn’t taking preventive measures. Preventive measures include warm-up and cool-down exercises, proper sports equipment use, training techniques and safety education.
Many sports medicine professionals work closely with athletes of all ages to provide injury prevention advice. Whether it’s a simple brace that helps stabilize a vulnerable area or a strengthening program to improve balance and core strength, these methods can dramatically reduce the number of injuries sustained by young athletes.
The field of sports medicine includes a broad range of medical specialties, including cardiology, gynecology, obstetrics and ophthalmology. It also encompasses allied health care professionals, such as registered clinical exercise physiologists and nurses. Occasionally, the public confuses this specialty with fitness, which is defined as the optimal use of exercise to achieve and maintain good health at an individual or population level.
All athletes, whether they compete professionally or are just weekend warriors, run a significant risk of injury. Sprains and strains are the most common types of sports injuries, which result from overexertion or sudden movement that overstretches or tears muscles/tendons/ligaments. Proper warm-up exercises, conditioning, and gradual progression of training can significantly reduce the likelihood of these types of injuries.
Medical professionals who specialize in sports medicine can treat these injuries using a combination of methods including bracing, immobilization, injections, and physical therapy. In addition to treating injuries, sports medicine doctors also help patients manage their diets and exercise programs to promote healthy lifestyles.
Because of the broad range of skills and knowledge required to practice sports medicine, it is important that all physicians have an understanding of this discipline. Ideally, this should be part of undergraduate and postgraduate curriculums, with lectures, clinical-skills workshops, and electives focused on sports medicine. In addition, existing specialties with a musculoskeletal focus, such as orthopedists, should actively seek opportunities to offer educational and rotational experiences in this area.
Whether you’re a professional athlete who gets injured, or a “weekend warrior,” rehabilitation is an important part of the treatment of sports injuries. It consists of a series of steps to restore your range of motion, strength and flexibility after injury.
Stretching and exercise routines are a major component of the rehab process, helping to lengthen muscles that have become short and tight from inactivity or pain. This is often followed by functional exercises designed to return you to the level of performance that you were at prior to your injury (e.g., rugby drills).
Controlling inflammation is an important goal of sports rehab because excessive inflammation can decrease tissue strength by decreasing tensile strength of ligaments and tendons. Inflammation can be controlled using modalities and medications, such as corticosteroids. Resting the injured area is important, but too much rest can actually harm you by preventing healing and causing disuse atrophy. It’s best to use a philosophy of relative rest (limiting the amount of time that you work out while still allowing for adequate recovery) to maximize healing.
Whether you’re an amateur athlete who wants to get more out of their exercise program or someone recovering from a sports injury, you want the best possible care. Health workers with a specialization in sports medicine can provide this care, treating injuries, illnesses and helping people prevent future problems.
Those who wish to pursue careers in this field should start by earning a bachelor’s degree. Then they can attend a residency program to receive the hands-on training that is necessary. A residency can last anywhere from three to seven years, depending on the specialty.
Some sports medicine professionals choose to continue their education and earn a master’s degree. This can help them advance into more specialized positions, such as physician assistants or physical therapists. Team physicians can also opt to pursue a fellowship, which requires them to obtain a doctoral degree. Many community colleges offer associate degrees in sports medicine. These programs usually take two years to complete.