Sports medicine – alternatively known as sport and exercise medicine (SEM) – is a branch of medicine that focuses on the treatment and prevention of future injuries associated with sports and exercise. It also deals with physical fitness of both athletes and regular individuals and the steps required to maintain peak physical condition.
As many sports injuries primarily affect muscles ligaments, tendons and bones (e.g. ankle sprains), this branch of medicine is sometimes referred to as musculoskeletal medicine.
The field of sports medicine only started to be formally recognized as a distinct medical specialty in the late 20th century. However, despite this, it has been around for a much longer time. For the best part of a century, both amateur and professional sports teams have employed physicians to help treat their athletes injuries and (as much as possible) help to prevent these injuries.
This is also one of the fastest growing areas of medicine. The global market for sports medicine products and services is expected grow by as much as 6.4% per annum between 2022 and 2030. At the end of this period, the market is projected to be around US$9.5B in size..
Some of this growth comes from the ever increasing participation in sports and exercise due to the growing recognition of the importance of physical activity in protecting against many diseases. However, this growth is also a result of the growing understanding of the importance of problems like concussion in certain sports in which they were not perceived as being major factors.
In this article, we set out to answer three of the most widely asked questions about sports medicine.
What Do Sports Medicine Doctors Do?
Sports physicians’ responsibilities vary greatly from day to day. However, over time, they may be required to perform most of the following duties:
- Examining athletes to understand the nature of the injuries suffered and discussing with the athlete how the injury occurred;
- Ordering imaging scans or lab tests to better understand the nature of the injuries;
- Reviewing the injured athlete’s medical history;
- Devising treatment plans for injured athletes, including prescribing medication;
- Working with coaches, physical therapists and other professionals involved in treating the athlete to ensure that the treatment plan is consistently carried out;
- Working with other members of the sports medicine team caring for the athlete to design a rehabilitation program that will help the athlete recover from injury. This may include advising on the dietary, hydration and nutrition regime that the athlete needs to follow.
Where Do Sports Medicine Doctors Work?
Just as with other categories of health care, sports medicine physicians may be employed in a variety of situations. These may include:
Sports Medicine Clinics
These clinics are among the largest employers of SEM practiitioners. Doctors working there can be involved in treating both amateur and professional athletes and they may deal with injuries both immediately after they have occurred or during the rehabilitation stage.
Sports physicians may also be employed directly by teams and will be focused on treating the members of that team as well as keeping them as close to full fitness as possible. Much of their work will involve treating athletes in the immediate aftermath of experiencing an injury. The sports medicine professionals employed by teams are usually certified athletic trainers.
Teaching & Research
Again, just as with other categories of health care professional, some sports medicine doctors focus on research into new evidence based methods of treating sports injuries as well as teaching medical students preparing for careers in sports medicine.
How To Become A Sports & Exercise Medicine Doctor
The steps required to become a qualified sports medicine physician vary depending on the country involved. Typically, in European countries, qualification requires 4 years of experience in areas such as:
- Internal medicine
- Orthopedics & traumatology;
- Physical & rehabilitation medicine.
In addition to training in the above areas, those aspiring to follow careers in sports medicine should also obtain fellowships at a recognized sports medicine centre.
In the US, the steps required to qualify as a board certified sports medicine physician are somewhat different. However, they broadly resemble the steps required to practise in other medical areas such as family or emergency medicine. They typically include:
- Pursuing a four year bachelor’s degree, typically in a science related field such as chemistry;
- Gain admission to medical school and earn a Doctor of Medicine (or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine) qualification;
- Complete a residency;
- Complete a one to two year sports medicine fellowship.