Sports medicine specialists focus on the evaluation and non-surgical care of athletes and other active people. To prepare for this subspecialty, they complete seven or more years of medical school and postgraduate training to become board certified in Internal Medicine. They then spend at least another year taking care of athletes and studying the basic sports medicine sciences, before taking the examination for the Certificate of Added Qualifications in Sports Medicine (C.A.Q.).
What sports medicine specialists do
Sports medicine speacialists are concerned with all problems — injury and illness alike — related to athletics and physical fitness. They decide when to refer patients to a surgical specialist or prescribe treatments, such as physical therapy.
They are especially well-suited to care for people with medical problems (for example, asthma, diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis, or obesity) who wish to begin an exercise program, improve their fitness, and reduce risks to their health.
They may care for teams, as well as individuals, and are ready to evaluate and advise patients about nutrition for growth and development and for improving performance.
Above all, they believe “exercise is medicine” and promote lifelong fitness and wellness, encouraging prevention of illness and injury.
How to reach a sports medicine specialist
Your primary care physician may refer you to a sports medicine specialist for a particular problem. In some cases, a coach or athletic trainer — or another patient or family member — might recommend you consult one. Many very active people may already have a sports medicine specialist as their regular doctor.
It’s a “team effort”
Sports medicine specialists often work closely with many physicians to help manage a patient’s care, relying on other medical and surgical specialists, as well as skilled health professionals — athletic trainers, physical therapists, nutritionists, psychologists — to come up with the right program for a patient.