sports medicine practitioner
What Is It?
How To Choose a Practitioner

What Is It?

Focusing on the prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation of athletic injuries, as well as on performance enhancement, sports medicine is a growing field that serves athletes of all abilities, from Olympic champions to weekend warriors.

No longer the sole domain of "the team doctor," sports medicine today encompasses a range specialties including exercise physiology, nutrition, podiatry, physical therapy, and more. There are even practitioners who specialize in treating the unique injuries caused by popular "extreme" sports, such as rock climbing, wake boarding, and downhill skateboarding.

Today practitioners of sports medicine also use a wide range of integrative therapies, including massage, chiropractic, acupuncture, prolotherapy, and myotherapy, to name just a few. (For more information on these therapies, see the WholeHealthMD Reference Library and the Healing Center on Sports Injuries.)

Practitioners of sports medicine include:

 Primary-care sports medicine physicians. These are M.D.s or D.O.s (doctors of osteopathy) who primarily treat musculoskeletal injuries--such as ankle and knee sprains, muscle strains, stress fractures, and tendinitis--not requiring surgery. If surgery is needed, the physician refers patients to an orthopedic surgeon. A primary-care sports medicine physician may also monitor acute or chronic illnesses, such as fatigue, hormonal problems, diabetes, and asthma, that may affect performance. The doctor can also refer patients to theother specialists, mentioned below.

 Pediatric sports medicine specialists. Physicians practicing pediatric sports medicine treat youth-specific, sports-related problems in children and teens. These injuries are often different from the sports injuries commonly incurred by adults.

 Chiropractic sports physicians. Chiropractors (D.C.s) who specialize in sports medicine are involved in the prevention, diagnosis, management, and rehabilitation of musculoskeletal injuries resulting specifically from athletic injuries. They use manual manipulation of the spine and extremities, and other physical measures, to relieve pain and stiffness. (See also the WholeHealthMD Reference Library entry on Chiropractic.)

 Sports medicine podiatrists. Podiatric (foot specialty) physicians certified in sports medicine treat sports- and fitness-related injuries to the feet and lower extremities, and may also be qualified to perform foot surgery. Sports medicine podiatrists commonly work with runners and cyclists, and soccer, football, baseball, and basketball players.

 Sports physical therapists. This specialty involves the examination and rehabilitation of sports-related injuries to muscles, nerves, and joints. Sports physical therapists also conduct fitness evaluations and work with clients to improve flexibility, strength, body composition, posture, and aerobic conditioning. (See also the WholeHealthMD Reference Library entry on Physical Therapist.)

 Personal trainers/exercise specialists. These professionals can design individualized exercise programs to address specific fitness-related concerns, such as losing, gaining, or maintaining weight, or improving strength and range of motion. They also work on performance enhancement. (See also the WholeHealthMD Reference Library entry on Personal Trainer/Exercise Specialist.)

 Sports nutritionists. Registered dietitians (R.D.s) or certified nutritionists (C.N.s) who focus on sports nutrition typically work with teams and/or recreational athletes to maximize exercise training and boost athletic performance. They may also address energy metabolism, hydration, and nutritional supplements, and develop individualized eating plans. (See also the WholeHealthMD Reference Library entries on Dietitian and Nutritionist.)

How To Choose a Practitioner

Choosing the appropriate sports medicine practitioner depends on whether you require treatment or rehabilitation for an injury, preparation for a sporting event, assistance with a fitness exercise program, nutritional counseling, or other advice. Be sure the practitioner has received the "type-specific" training required for certification and engages in continuing sports medicine education.

At the very least, medical doctors and osteopathic physicians working in this field should be members of one of the following organizations that promote quality sports medicine services: American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine, American College of Sports Medicine, American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, or the American Osteopathic Academy of Sports Medicine.

Here are some of the other key credentials:

To become certified in sports medicine, primary-care physicians (M.D.s and D.O.s) must first be board certified in Family Practice, Internal Medicine, Emergency Medicine, or Pediatrics by either the American Board of Medical Specialties or the American Osteopathic Association Bureau of Osteopathic Specialists. They must also complete a sports medicine fellowship accredited by the medical or osteopathic profession and pass an exam to be awarded a Certificate of Competence (for D.O.s) or Added Qualification (for M.D.s) in Sports Medicine.

Some members of the sports medicine societies noted above may have qualified based on training, experience, and contributions to the field. For example, board certified orthopedic surgeons are eligible for special accredited fellowship training in sports medicine. In addition, surgeons who specialize in sports medicine and are involved with a sports team may become members of the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine.

Chiropractors who want certification as chiropractic sports physicians (CCSP) must complete a minimum of 100 hours of postgraduate sports medicine education and pass a certification exam given by the American Chiropractic Board of Sports Physicians. Chiropractors certified as Diplomates have additional training, research, and practice in sports chiropractic.

Although there is currently no subspecialty certification for sports medicine podiatry, sports medicine fellowships are available for podiatrists who wish to continue their education.

Physical therapists who want certification in sports therapy must have at least 2,000 hours of clinical practice in this area, 25% of it within the last three years. A therapist can also take an exam offered by the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties, an arm of the American Physical Therapy Association.

Because the professions of personal trainer and exercise specialist are relatively new, with a confusing array of certifications, look for a person certified by the American College of Sports Medicine or one of the other associations mentioned in the WholeHealthMD Reference Library entry on Personal Trainer/Exercise Specialist.

There are no national or state credentialing agencies for sports nutritionists. To ensure you find a qualified specialist, ask your primary-care sports practitioner for a recommendation.

For more information about sports injuries and prevention, or to locate a practitioner in your area, contact one of the following organizations:

 American College of Sports Medicine, Indianapolis, IN.

 American Osteopathic Academy of Sports Medicine, Middleton, WI.

 American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine, Rosemont, IL.

 American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, Overland Park, KS

 American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine, Rockville, MD.

 American Chiropractic Board of Sports Physicians, Esterville, IA.

 American Physical Therapy Association, Alexandria, VA.

Date Published: 04/19/2005
Previous  |  Next
> Printer-friendly Version