Job Description of a Sports Medicine Doctor

Doctors of sports medicine often use physical therapy to help their patients recover.
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If your family is filled with sports fanatics, announcing that you're interested in sports medicine might make you an instant hero. Family approval aside, it's a fascinating field in its own right. You'd be treating ordinary people as well as competitive athletes, helping them maintain an active and healthy lifestyle.

Sports Medicine

Regular physical activity is one of the most important ways to stay healthy, but it has its own risks. If your mom kept her good china tucked away for special occasions, you already understand the basic principle: the more something gets used, the likelier it is to get damaged. That's true for the human body, and doctors of sports medicine treat patients who've been injured while participating in sports or physical activities. They also advise patients on wellness, exercise, nutrition and injury prevention.

Treating Injuries

If you're a doctor in sports medicine, you're going to see a broad range of injuries. Strains, sprains, broken bones, fractures and head injuries are referred to as "acute" injuries. You'll diagnose them through a physical examination and interview with the patient, or sometimes through X-rays, MRIs or other imaging technologies. You'll set bones, provide splints or casts, plan and schedule physical therapy, prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs or painkillers, and occasionally operate or refer patients for surgery. Some injuries are chronic rather than acute, meaning they've occurred through long-term use. These include the elbow problems common to tennis players and bowlers, or the shoulder issues faced by pitchers and quarterbacks. They're treated through a similar range of therapies.

Treating Other Conditions

A number of illnesses can affect patients' activity levels, whether they're competitive athletes or couch potatoes trying to get back into shape. For example, your patients might include asthma sufferers or diabetics. Neither of those illnesses will keep a motivated patient from remaining active, but they both require careful management. Often, your job will come down to support. Competitive athletes or patients with special dietary needs might require nutritional advice, and you might spend much of your time coaching sedentary patients as they improve their fitness in slow-steady stages.


Getting started in sports medicine is much the same as for any other medical career. You'd start by earning a four-year undergraduate degree that meets the requirements for medical school admission. They'll vary according to the school, but usually include a large number of science courses as well as some advanced math and humanities. Medical school also takes four years, with roughly two years each in classroom instruction and supervised experience in a clinical setting. After you graduate you'll need to complete a residency in one of six medical specialties, then a fellowship in sports medicine.

Medical Specialties

Sports medicine gives you lots of options. It's available as a subspecialty for doctors of emergency medicine, family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics and physical medicine. It's also a specialty for orthopedic surgeons, who repair knees for famous quarterbacks and weekend joggers with equal facility. Each branch of medicine brings a distinct perspective to sports medicine. For example, family doctors and internists might focus more on health, wellness and fitness. Children are injury-prone thanks to their fragile bodies and fearlessness, and pediatricians and family physicians will see many childhood injuries. Doctors of physical medicine specialize in exercise and rehabilitation, making them especially suited to sports medicine.

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