Healthy Living

When Do You Need to See a Sports Medicine Doctor?

When Do You Need to See a Sports Medicine Doctor?


People of all ages may engage in sports as a pastime for enjoyment or athletic competition. However, participating in sports can also sometimes result in injuries. Effectively and quickly attending to these injuries make it possible for athletes to recover and return doing sports.

Sports medicine doctors help both professional and amateur athletes when it comes to recovering and preventing future injuries as well as improving athletic performance. Aside from these areas, sports medicine doctors can also help people make healthy lifestyle choices not only for themselves but also for their loved ones. Sports medicine also includes sports training, sports psychology, and sports nutrition.

Who should you see first for sports injuries?

Generally, you may want to see a primary care doctor first for your injury. A primary care doctor can be a family physician, emergency physician, internist, or a pediatrician. Although these primary healthcare providers are not sports medicine specialists, they also have the expertise required when it comes to dealing with particular injuries. 

Acute sprains, strains, and other minor or uncomplicated musculoskeletal injuries usually respond well to standard and immediate medical treatments. However, your primary care doctor will probably refer you to a specialist if you have a complicated training injury, tendonitis, or need surgery for treatment. 

Athletes usually prefer seeing a healthcare provider who has medical experience in treating athletes. One of the best ways to find these specialists is to ask for references from fellow athletes. Other sources of information include healthcare organizations, sports clubs, and local sports teams. 

If your condition requires surgery, and if your insurance permits self-referral, you can choose to consult an orthopedic surgeon first. However, in most cases, fractures and other common sports injuries can be treated by a primary care doctor or a sports medicine doctor. If your doctor thinks that you really need surgery, your doctor will then refer you to an orthopedic surgeon. 

Other Specialists in Sports Medicine 

  • Podiatrist: You may also see a podiatrist when you have below the knee problems or injuries. Podiatrists also have substantial knowledge of musculoskeletal problems. These specialists often work with athletes or runners, who are more susceptible to having foot and ankle injuries. They can also make orthotics, perform biomechanical analysis, and conduct gait assessment. 
  • Physical Therapist (PT): This practitioner specializes in orthopedics and sports medicine. PTs typically provide treatment based on your clinician's diagnosis. Injured athletes may need a physical therapist to help them recover from their injury along with integrating rehabilitation and training principles. 
  • Orthopedist: An orthopedist's expertise is in the diagnosis and treatment of bone and joint problems, such as spinal disorders. There are many orthopedists who specialize in joint replacement, anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) repairs, and back surgery. 
  • Chiropractor: A chiropractor is a licensed practitioner who performs spine manipulations to help relieve pressure on different nerves. There are many athletes who see chiropractors first since the type of treatment they provide does not include surgery or prescription medications. These practitioners often work together with massage therapists in treating different musculoskeletal issues. 
  • Certified Athletic Trainer (ATC): These allied health professionals work with physicians and other allied health professionals to provide emergency care, intervention, and rehabilitation for athletic injuries. Although they often work exclusively with athletes, they also work with non-athletes to help promote healthy physical activities and overall wellness. 
  • Holistic Health Practitioner: They offer non-traditional methods when it comes to treating a variety of conditions and illnesses. These methods include homeopathy, medical herbalism, acupuncture, and other non-invasive and non-pharmaceutical techniques. 

When to see a sports medicine doctor?

If you have a sports-related condition or injury, you may need to see a physician or surgeon who has expertise in sports medicine. The following are conditions and sports-related injuries that may need sports medicine care:

  • Sprains and Strains: Sprains happen when ligaments are torn or stretched and can vary from mild to severe.  Strains occur when a tendon or muscle is torn or stretched due to too much force applied on the muscle. 
  • Fractures: A fracture means a broken bone. Fractures are usually a result of falls, vehicular accidents, or sports injuries. Other causes of fractures are osteoporosis and low bone density. 
  • Separations and Dislocations: The shoulder has three bones, and they are the clavicle (collarbone), scapula (shoulder bone), and humerus (arm bone). These bones are connected by soft tissues to form two joints, which are the acromioclavicular (AC) joint and glenohumeral (shoulder) joint. When a separation happens, it refers to the acromioclavicular (AC) joint, while a dislocation refers to the glenohumeral joint. Even though these two terms are often interchangeably used, they do not mean the same shoulder injury. 
  • Rotator Cuff Injuries: The rotator cuff is a group of tendons and muscles that help support the shoulder. Injuries to the rotator cuff are common, which can be mild to severe. These injuries include tendinitis, bursitis, and strains. 
  • Tendinitis or Tendonitis: Tendinitis occurs when the tendons become inflamed or irritated. It causes pain and tenderness, which makes the affected joint difficult to move. 
  • Bursitis: This condition happens when the bursa is inflamed. It causes discomfort and pain in the affected area. Like tendinitis, it also limits joint movements. 
  • Knee Ligament Injuries (MCL, ACL, or Meniscus): The bones in the body are connected by tough bands of tissue called ligaments. Knee ligaments are more prone to injuries, which can be mild to severe. 
  • Cartilage Conditions or Injuries: Cartilage damage is a common type of injury, which usually involves the knees. However, other areas of the body, such as the ankles, elbows, and hips can also be affected. Gradual wear and tear or osteoarthritis and acute sports injuries can damage the cartilage. People with minor cartilage damage and injuries may heal on their own after a few weeks. However, those with severe damage may need surgery. 

You may also see a sports medicine doctor if you experience the following symptoms:

  • Stiffness
  • Weakness
  • Numbness
  • Tingling or pins and needles sensations 
  • Warm or hot joint
  • Bruising
  • Swelling
  • Acute or sudden severe pain
  • Difficulty putting weight on your leg, knee, foot, or ankle
  • Tenderness in your wrist, finger, hand, elbow, or arm