Sports Medicine

An Overview of Sports Medicine

Sports medicine is the study and practice of medical principles specifically related to athletes and individuals participating in physical fitness or sports training programs. The goal of sports medicine professionals is to help these people achieve optimal health and performance training goals.

Specialists in the field of sports medicine treat a wide range of physical conditions and injuries, including acute traumatic injuries such as fractures, sprains and strains, and dislocations.

They also treat chronic overuse injuries, such as tendonitis, degenerative diseases, and overtraining syndrome.

The practice of sports medicine combines general medical education with the specific principles of sports science, exercise physiology, orthopedics, biomechanics, nutrition and even psychology. Sports medicine education programs may include a broad range of study that includes:


A sports medicine specialist is an individual with specialized education and training who focuses on the medical, therapeutic, and functional aspects of exercise participation and who often works with athletes to improve their overall sports performance.

The title of sports medicine specialist does not necessarily mean the specialist is a physician. There are a variety of career paths and educational programs for individuals interested in working with athletes.

The variety of skill-sets and educational specialization on any given sports medicine team may include physicians, surgeons, athletic trainers, sports psychologists, physical therapists, nutritionists, coaches, and personal trainers.

Depending upon the level of education and specific area of specialization, those working in the field may have a doctoral degree, master's degree, bachelor of science or any number of certificates in sports medicine, athletic training, sports science, nutrition, or another area of focus.


Sports medicine physicians have specialized training in the diagnosis and treatment of sports- or exercise-related injuries and illness. While many physicians work with athletes, the majority of sports medicine doctors will treat anyone who is active or wants to return to daily activities after an injury.

The most common paths physicians take to a sports medicine specialty include board certification in family practice, emergency medicine, pediatrics, internal medicine, or orthopedics with an additional two-year fellowship or other continuing education in sports medicine.

Physicians may also gain a Certificate of Added Qualifications in Sports Medicine. Not all sports medicine physicians perform surgery, but all will have a thorough understanding of musculoskeletal and orthopedic injuries and surgical interventions.

Primary care physicians who are interested in becoming sports medicine doctors typically complete a three-year family medicine residency after medical school and then gain additional, specific training and experience in sports medicine.

Another very common path to sports medicine specialization includes completing an orthopedic surgery residency after medical school. Orthopedic surgeons may gain experience treating athletic injuries and many also choose to specialize in a specific joint of the body, such as knees, hips, or shoulders.

Sports Science

Sports science, also referred to as exercise science, is a focused study and application of the principals of physiology, anatomy, and psychology as they relate to human movement and physical activity.

Exercise science is still quite young and much of the field is focused on conducting research on various adaptations to exercise, or to the lack of exercise, on the human body. This work ranges from addressing elite athletes to the general population, children to the elderly, and physical components of fitness to the psychological.

Sports Psychology

Sports psychology is a specific branch of psychology that focuses on the mental and emotional needs of athletes and individuals who participate in professional or recreational sports. The role of a sports psychologist is becoming more prominent and accepted among athletes—it's not uncommon for professional sports teams and athletes to employee sports psychologists on a regular basis.

Because athletes face unique stressors, a sports psychologist can help them regulate anxiety and improve focus. Additionally, they use a variety of psychology skills and tools to ultimately improve a patient's athletic performance, their coping with injuries, and their maintenance of a strong emotional balance during high-intensity competition.



There are job opportunities in fields related to sports medicine. Typically, employment involves working with generally healthy or active people in two major areas:

  1. Lifestyle improvement or performance enhancement

  2. Injury prevention or recovery

Those pursuing degrees in sport medicine or sports science often work in clinical, academic, or service employment. Professions include trainers, coaches, researchers, sports psychologists, nutritionists, and many others.


Schools are beginning to offer more and more sports medicine programs and sports science curriculum. Only a few years ago, you would be hard-pressed to find much selection if you wanted to study sports medicine in college. The standard education program consisted of physical education or medical school. Now, departments with degree programs specific to sports medicine, athletic training, exercise science, health promotion, kinesiology, sports coaching, and a variety of other disciplines are popping up at nearly every university.

Sports Psychology is also a growing profession that requires a solid educational foundation. Elite athletes, professionals, and Olympians may all have tremendous physical skills, but research is finding that—at these levels—mental training skills (focus, relaxation, goal-setting, and reducing anxiety) are critical in separating first place from second.

A Certified Athletic Trainer (ATC) is a highly skilled professional who has education and training in athletic health care. To become a certified ATC, one must pass an examination that covers a variety of topics within the six domains of athletic training:

  1. Prevention of athletic injuries
  2. Recognition, evaluation, and diagnosis
  3. Immediate care and treatment of athletic injuries
  4. Rehabilitation and reconditioning of athletic injuries
  5. Health care administration
  6. Professional development and responsibility

The Future of Sports Medicine

The field of sports medicine is continually growing and the variety of specialists that work with athletes will most likely continue to grow as well. Emerging areas of sports medicine may include advances in diagnosing and treating injuries with newer devices, rehabilitation modalities, and even biologics such as stem cell therapy. As research and innovation in medicine continue to grow, so do the specific areas of application in sports medicine.

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