What does a sports medicine specialist do


Have you ever heard about an athlete recovering from an injury and wondered, “What does a sports medicine specialist do?” The answer is simple: They help patients safely achieve their physical potential. Sports medicine specialists are  

board-certified physicians who focus solely on the needs of patients dealing with active lifestyles. They assist both professionals and amateurs alike through preventative care, healing injuries, setting recovery plans, and working to maximize safe performance.  

Let’s take a moment to learn about which patients need a sports medicine specialist, how they perform their jobs, and how they help prevent injuries. 

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You’ve probably seen stories of professional football players working with medical teams to recover from injuries. During high school, you may have seen an athlete injured on the field. Maybe you exercise with a friend who injured themselves while lifting weights at the gym. What might these three athletes have in common? They turn to sports medicine specialists to begin their paths to recovery. 

Athletes recovering from sports-related injuries must take care to follow therapy programs designed to return them to full health. Sports medicine specialists are at the center of a team of coaches and medical professionals,  navigating the road to their patient’s recovery. In this role, they often coordinate with orthopedic surgeons and physical therapists to develop recovery plans for the athletes in their care.

Not all injuries require surgery for treatment. Common injuries ranging from concussions to ankle sprains are usually treated by sports medicine specialists. The main focus of their specialty is on non-surgical treatments for their patients.  This allows them to offer immediate aid to 90% of the injuries athletes face. Through the quick treatment of an injury and proven recovery techniques, sports medicine specialists can heal their patients’ injuries quickly and effectively. 

While they often work with athletes, sports medicine specialists are sought out by many people with activity-related injuries. Whether a non-athlete has pulled a  muscle at the gym, or an amateur tennis player has developed a tennis elbow, a  sports medicine specialist can help them recover from their respective injury.  This is because the focus of sports medicine specialists includes MANY activity-based injuries.  


Sports medicine specialists are trained physicians who focus on the non-surgical treatment of injuries. These injuries fall into two groups: Acute and chronic.  

Acute injuries require immediate treatment: 

• Concussions 

• Sprains 

• Joint injuries 

• Fractures 

Chronic injuries are healed through prolonged treatments and therapies: • Shin splints and stress fractures 

• Tendonitis 

• Injuries caused by repetitive motion 

The sports medicine specialist is often the first health professional to render aid to injured athletes. As a result, their diagnosis will lead to treatment or referral plans. Once an injury is treated, the sports medicine specialist may refer the patient to an occupational therapist to develop a recovery plan. Should they determine an injury is beyond their scope of care, they can refer the patient to the proper surgeon for treatment. Regardless of how the patient’s treatment is 

resolved, the sports medicine specialist will help coordinate each specialist to execute a comprehensive recovery strategy for their patient. 


Even though many patients first encounter a sports medicine specialist only after they’ve been injured, those same specialists spend a lot of time working to prevent injuries. Their experience and research continue to expand the knowledge base used not only to treat injuries but to keep them from occurring in the first place. This is not academic—what they learn is actively used to keep athletes in their best physical condition

The services of these specialists are retained by organizations ranging from youth sports leagues to professional and Olympic athletes. In these roles, the sports medicine specialist becomes familiar with the health needs of athletes under their care. Using this knowledge, they work with the entire sports medicine team to create nutrition, therapy, and exercise plans to ensure peak athlete health and performance.  


Sports medicine specialists are not team employees who also offer medical services to athletes; they’re board-certified physicians who put their patients’  well-being first. Regardless of whether your sports medicine specialist works from their own office or is employed by a professional team, your well-being is their only priority.  

When your sports medicine specialist diagnoses your injury, it’s not simply to create a treatment plan to quickly put you back in competition. The goal of any therapy they devise is to ensure your return to full health. This can include prescription medicine and long-term physical therapy. Unfortunately, there are 

times when even the best treatment option is not enough to overcome an injury.  At these times, the sports medicine specialist may have to make the hard decision to not clear their patient’s return to competition. Their duty is to the patient’s health, not the organization’s standings.  


While your sports medicine specialist is experienced with the physical demands of athletics, they are first and foremost physicians. You can expect your specialist to engage with you just like any other doctor would. They’ll simply understand your activity-based challenges better than most of their peers. 

You should expect your sports medicine specialist to engage in meaningful conversation with you. Their goal is to understand the injury or hindrance that brought you to them. Expect them to thoroughly assess your injury, asking you plenty of questions to understand the problem. A good physician will be an active listener, adding your input to their analysis of the problem. 

Once your sports medicine specialist has thoroughly examined you, they will analyze your symptoms to determine the exact type of injury you’re dealing with.  An accurate diagnosis is the most important part of their job. By understanding your injury, they can decide on the best course forward for your therapy. 

Earlier we discussed the sports medicine specialist’s obligation to the patient taking priority over their employer’s needs. The same code of ethics will drive your evaluation and treatment. The specialist is held to the highest standard of ethical behavior under the law, including patient confidentiality. Their focus is on your health. This also means they are not in the business of risking your health to boost your performance. Similar to how they may not recommend an athlete to return to play, they will not recommend treatments that cause you harm. Be prepared for them to give you an honest, sometimes difficult assessment of your injury and recovery strategy. 


Your active lifestyle sometimes causes pain and injury that requires help from an expert familiar with your activities. A sports medicine specialist is a health professional specifically trained to help you prepare for your athletic challenges,  recover from your injuries, and achieve your goals.  

PRO TIP: Active Sport & Spine Therapy has extended its services area to cover more of New Jersey, offering top-notch care for sports and spine issues.

Any athlete, regardless of their professional or amateur status, will probably need the services of a sports medicine specialist at some point in their career. By fostering a strong doctor-patient relationship, athletes can safely compete and improve their performance through proper self-care. Now, you know the answer  whenever someone asks, “What does a sports medicine specialist do?”

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