What is sports medicine?
Sports medicine is an evolving area of healthcare centred on exercise and activity that includes doctors and health professionals from many medical disciplines. It is not specific to any one area of the body, which means that doctors and clinicians qualified in another area of medicine, such as orthopaedic surgeons, usually undergo additional specialist training to focus on sports medicine. It also incorporates a wide range of clinical information, including studies on exercise for children and the elderly, the effect of drugs and medicine in sports, and the importance of exercise in maintaining the health of the population. The main goals of sports medicine are:
- To treat and rehabilitate injuries caused by sports or activity
- To promote general health and wellness so that patients can participate safely in sports and exercise
- To assess patients, particularly athletes, to identify and prevent potential injuries from occurring during sports or exercise
- To restore patient to previous level of activity
Sports medicine techniques can differ from mainstream medical standards. For example, a surgeon specialising in sports medicine might prioritise a specific outcome, like maintaining the full range of movement in a joint, over a technique that offers stability but restricts movement. Often, specialists in this field make use of the latest research and pioneering techniques to preserve the abilities of their patients.
When is it necessary?
Unless you are an elite athlete, you might think that sports medicine has little or nothing to do with you. It's true that if you are a professional athlete, or even just an amateur sports player, sports medicine can help lengthen your athletic career and ensure longevity in your chosen activity. Sometimes the approach a sports clinician takes to treat an injury differs from what a general practitioner might do because they have a specific outcome in mind for your chosen sport. However, even if you don't play sports, sports medicine techniques may be required to treat you. And if you simply want to improve your overall health and well-being, elements of sports medicine can help your body perform at its best.
The following are some scenarios where sports medicine is an appropriate solution for the patient’s concerns.
- A professional soccer player injures his knee during a game. He requires surgery, which is carried out by a surgeon specialising in elite sports medicine. The surgeon uses a technique designed to give the patient full range of motion. A specialist physical therapist then works with the player throughout his recovery to ensure he regains the mobility and strength required to return to his soccer career as swiftly and safely as possible.
- A patient is overweight and struggling to participate in any form of exercise due to their respiratory fitness. A dietician works with the patient to help them lose weight while ensuring they have the fuel their body needs to exercise effectively, and a qualified athletic trainer designs a programme to help the patient slowly increase their exercise routine and lung capacity until they are able to participate in moderately strenuous activities.
- A young child is studying ballet and her dance teacher wants her to start dancing en pointe. A sports physiotherapist performs an assessment on the dancer to check her muscle strength and bone density are sufficient to start dancing on her toes. A specialist podiatrist provides some foot and ankle strengthening exercises to help the dancer prepare.
Other reasons to see a sports medicine specialist include:
- Fractures or sprains
- Ligament damage
- Eating disorders, diet and weight management
The benefits of sports medicine
For non-athletes, the benefits include:
- Introduction to techniques such as dynamic warm-ups, for safe and effective exercise
- Effective and swift recovery from injuries such as sprains or fractures
- Improved cardiac and respiratory health through tailored exercise or diet programmes
- Prevention of injury caused by incorrect or ill-informed exercise methods
- A better awareness of the body and its capabilities
For athletes, the benefits include:
- Fast recovery time from injuries
- Effective and tailored rehabilitation to regain strength and mobility
- A longer professional sporting career
- Less risk of side effects or residual injuries upon retirement
Should you see a sports specialist?
Sports medicine is appropriate for many people, including children training in sports, workers in strenuous jobs like construction, and anyone who wants to ensure their body stays healthy and mobile for as long as possible. If you are injured or want to improve your health, and you are still unsure if sports medicine is necessary, you can ask your doctor the following questions:
- Will sports medicine help me to recover quickly from my injury?
- Will sports medicine help me to retain as much mobility as possible after my injury?
- Could seeing a clinician specialising in sports medicine help me to improve my overall health and fitness?
- Should I see a sports medicine specialist to help prevent injury in the future?
Discussing this with your primary physician should give you a clear idea of whether it’s necessary for you or your family. Because sports medicine covers such a wide range of disciplines, there is no one solution for everyone. Your doctor will explain the options available to you.
Remember, if you or anyone in your family experiences a significant injury while exercising, you should visit the emergency room before anything else. It is also important to note that surgery and physiology should come together and patients need both modes of treatment to be fully rehabilitated. Symptoms such as swelling, numbness, and severe pain at the injury site are all reasons to seek immediate treatment.
Article reviewed by Dr Yegappan, orthopaedic surgeon at Parkway East Hospital
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What is Sports Medicine? Retrieved 22/01/2019 from https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=what-is-sports-medicine-160-19