athlete receiving physical therapy, personal training

When to See a Sports Medicine Doctor

Sports Medicine Doctors

What Are They?

Sports medicine providers are a broad group of medical professionals in internal medicine, emergency medicine, pediatrics, physical therapy, nutrition, and athletic training that practice in the field of specialized care for athletes and other highly active/ dynamic patients.

The goal of sports medicine is to not only get patients back to a standard baseline ie. being able to go about their daily life, but instead preparing them to return to the same high level of exertion in exercise and athletics that they were previous to their injuries and prevent future muscle and joint injuries. 

What Do They Do?

Providers of sports medicine, depending on their specific medical field and specialization, can offer different services, but as a whole are primarily interested in the rehab, recovery, stabilization and eventual athletic progress of their clients and patients. In this way, sports medicine providers and physicians can be involved from the diagnosis of an injury all the way through to educating patients about exercise regimens, hydration, and nutrition. 

Treating Acute and Chronic Injuries

What are Acute Injuries?

Acute injuries are injuries that happen suddenly during physically exerting movements, such as those found in sports, exercise, and manual labor. Acute injuries can also happen traumatic injury events such as car accidents or falls. Some of the most common forms of acute injury include strains, sprains, bone fractures, tendonitis and bursitis. Generalized symptoms of acute sports injuries include sudden onset pain, bruising, numbness, or inability to move within a normal range of motion or put weight on one area of the body. 

Things to Look Out For and How to Treat Them

Acute Injuries can range hugely in their effects on the body, and not all require attention from a sports medicine provider. A good rule of thumb is that unless the injury is obviously critical, majorly debilitating, or chronically painful after the injury event, you can usually wait two weeks without seeing a doctor to see if the pain will reside on its own with the help of home remedies. If the injury site is still experiencing pain or affecting motion after two weeks, or if the site becomes more swollen or more painful at any point after the injury, it’s time to see a professional

In the meantime, there’s an easy system for rest and recovery at home that’s applicable to almost all sports injuries and goes by the simple acronym RICE. 

  • R: Rest – Relax, get some rest, and try to refrain from putting any further stress on the injury site. 
  • I: Ice – Apply Ice or another cool compress to the affected area to reduce swelling and numb the injury site. It’s usually recommended to only ice for 10-15 minute increments. 
  • C: Compression – Aid movement and reduce swelling by using tape, elastic bandage, or wraps on the affected area. 
  • E: Elevate – By elevating the affected body part above the rest of the body (if the situation allows) blood flow can be controlled, reducing swelling and pain at the injury site. 

Preventing Future Muscle & Joint Injuries

One important focus of sports medicine is the prevention of future injuries.  It’s crucial to train baseline muscle strength and mobility because these are the attributes that are most prominent when muscles become fatigued. Most sports injuries occur due to muscle fatigue, which can lead to poor form, overexertion of smaller, secondary or tertiary muscle groups, and hyperextension.

Sports medicine providers can create comprehensive plans to prioritize baseline muscle strength, full body mobility, especially in the shoulders and hips, and prevent potential future injuries before they even begin to occur.  

Prevention Process

The injury prevention process usually follows a similar course regardless of the sport, though specific considerations may vary. This process usually involves the following:

  • Exams – Sports Medicine providers may utilize a variety of strength, mobility, and flexibility tests to see which muscles are weak, in states of disuse, or unevenly balanced.
  • Exercise programs – Exercise programs are highly individualized to suit specific strengths and weaknesses, and provide the best long term outcomes to each individual patient. 
  • Sports Training Methods – Many sports medicine providers will recommend training outside their patient’s normal sports training routines. This may demand bodyweight training, weight lifting, yoga, or a variety of other practices. 
  • Diet & Nutritional Knowledge – Unhealthy eating habits can put our bodies under unnecessary stress. On the flip side, proper diet and nutrition can help our bodies work efficiently and maximize strength and energy in our training. 

Maximizing Your Athletic Potential with Professional Help

Professional Help Through Those Who Know Best

Often, doing the actions we hope to improve in is the best and easiest way to get better and stronger at those movements, but sometimes, especially in the case of highly frequent and rigorous training, or during injury recovery, it's important to know that we're doing it right.

By tapping into the professional knowledge of Sports Medicine practitioners, you can learn the best, tried and tested ways to improve on your existing strengths, tackle your weaknesses, build strategy and technique, and maximize your athletic potential as you continue on in your training. Physical Therapists, Dieticians, and other sports medicine providers are a perfect source for all the information you might need to up your training game. 

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