A sports medicine physician is a health professional with specialized training, education, and experience in preventing, diagnosing, and treating all types of sport-related injuries and medical conditions. Sports medicine specialists, such as , combine surgical and non-surgical orthopedic care.
Orthopedic care involves the treatment of injuries and conditions that affect the joints, bones, and muscles. Additionally, sports medicine also provides care for other medical conditions caused or complicated by sports activities, such as asthma, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
What Injuries Does a Sports Medicine Physician Treat?
Although many sports-related injuries feel the same, there are some critical differences among them. Besides helping professional and amateur athletes, a sports medicine physician can also help children and teenagers who participate in school sports teams and adults who participate in strenuous physical activities at home or work. Here are common injuries that sports medicine can address:
Strains are injuries that affect tendons or muscles. Tendons are fibrous tissues connecting muscles to bones. Also known as muscle pulls, strains are divided into 3 categories, depending on severity.
In first-degree strains, the tendons or muscles are stretched; in second-degree strains, some tendons or muscles are torn; in third-degree strains, most or all of the tendons or muscles are torn. A strain occurs during a misstep or fall that puts too much force on a tendon or muscle, stretching or tearing the fibers.
Sprains are injuries that affect ligaments. Ligaments are fibrous connective tissues, building a connection between two bones. Just like strains, sprains are divided into first-, second-, and third-degree categories, depending on severity.
Patients with first-degree sprains experience only pain and swelling. Those with second-degree sprains often experience some level of weakness and have a bluish discoloration caused by bleeding. Patients with third-degree sprains experience severe weakness and may have difficulties moving. Sprains are also caused by a misstep or fall.
Also known as tendonitis, tendinitis is the inflammation of a tendon. It occurs when you injure or overuse a tendon. Sometimes it is caused by poor body mechanics. Symptoms of tendonitis include pain, swelling, heat, and redness. It can affect the elbow, finger, wrist, thigh, and other body parts. There are several types of tendinitis, including:
Achilles tendinitis is a common injury in sports that affects the Achilles tendon that connects the calf muscle to the heel. It is sometimes caused by shoes that do not fit well or shoes that do not support the foot properly. People with rheumatoid arthritis are more susceptible to Achilles tendinitis.
Tennis or Golfer’s Elbow
Also known in medical terms as lateral epicondylitis, a tennis elbow is characterized by pain that radiates downwards from the outer side of the elbow to the wrist. Medial epicondylitis, commonly known as golfer’s elbow, is characterized by pain that affects the elbow’s inner side and can sometimes radiate towards the wrist. The pain becomes worse when you try to lift against a force. As the name suggests, it is more common among golf players.
Supraspinatus tendinitis is the inflammation of the tendon around the top of the shoulder joint. Patients suffering from supraspinatus tendinitis feel pain when they try to move their arms upwards. They may also experience some problems lying on the affected shoulder while sleeping. If surrounding tendons are also inflamed, the patient may suffer from rotator cuff syndrome.
Trigger Finger or Thumb
Tendinitis that affects the finger or thumb produces clicks or crackling sounds when they are straightened out. Inflammation of the tendon sheath in the palm reduces the flexibility of the tendon of the trigger finger or thumb, leaving them in a fixed bent position. In some cases, a nodule may form along the tendon.
De Quervain’s Stenosing Tenosynovitis
De Quervain’s stenosing tenosynovitis is the inflammation of the sheath that surrounds the thumb. The inflammation causes thickening and swelling in the area between the thumb and wrist, making it painful to move the thumb.
Fasciitis is an inflammation of the fascia, the fibrous connective tissue surrounding muscles, nerves, and blood vessels. Most cases of fasciitis are caused by overuse. The most common type of fasciitis is plantar fasciitis.
Plantar fasciitis is one of the most common orthopedic problems. It is the inflammation of the sole of the foot. Patients who suffer from plantar fasciitis experience stabbing pain when they make their first steps in the morning. The pain can also occur when they stand for long periods or stand up after sitting for a while. The pain can disappear when one is engaged in physical activity only to return when the activity stops or ends. Plantar fasciitis is more common in walkers and runners.
Although the exact cause of plantar fasciitis is not clear, several factors can increase your risk of developing the condition. These include:
- Exercises that put a lot of pressure on your heal and surrounding tissues
- Foot mechanics (high arch, flat feet or abnormal walking pattern)
- A line of work that forces you to stand or walk on hard surfaces for long
Bursitis is an inflammation of the bursae. Bursae are small, fluid-like sacs that protect joints, bones, and muscles from impact. They also add lubrication to points between joints, tendons, and muscles, reducing friction during movement. The human body has over 150 bursae. There are several types of bursitis, including:
Also known as the patella, clergyman’s knee, or housemaid’s knee, prepatellar bursitis is a regular or sudden inflammation of the kneecap.
Olecranon bursitis is regular inflammation of the bursae at the tip of the elbow. Some people with olecranon bursitis feel small nodules within the bursa.
Retrocalcaneal bursitis is a regular or sudden inflammation of the bursae in the heel. It may also cause pain and swelling in the heel.
Trochanteric bursitis is the inflammation of the hips. It occurs gradually and might be accompanied by other medical conditions, such as arthritis.
Frequent sports-related dislocations include:
An elbow dislocation occurs when the joint surfaces at the elbow separate. A complete elbow dislocation forces the joint surfaces to separate completely. A subluxation is a partial dislocation where the joint surfaces are only partially separated.
Since the elbow is both a ball-and-socket joint and a hinge joint, dislocations and injuries can affect the normal range of motion. Simple elbow dislocations do not cause any major bone injury. Complex dislocations, on the other hand, injure the bones and surrounding ligaments. The most common cause of elbow dislocations is falling on an outstretched hand.
The shoulder’s unique ability to turn in many directions makes it more susceptible to dislocation. Just like a partial elbow dislocation, a partial shoulder dislocation is also called a subluxation. In subluxation, the top of the upper arm bone partially slips out of the socket.
In a complete shoulder dislocation, the top of the upper arm bone completely slips out of the socket. Typically, shoulder dislocation causes bruising, swelling, numbness, and weakness. It is also common for shoulder dislocations to cause tearing of surrounding tendons and ligaments. They can also damage nerves in the area.
A hip dislocation occurs when the top of the thighbone slips out of the socket in the hip bone. There are two types of hip dislocations; posterior dislocation and anterior dislocation. During a posterior dislocation, the thighbone is pushed out of position in a backward direction.
In an anterior dislocation, the thighbone slips out of the socket in a forward direction. Anterior dislocations are very rare, with statistics showing that nine out of 10 cases of shoulder dislocations are posterior dislocations.
A fracture is a disruption in the continuity and integrity of a bone. There are several types of fractures, categorized as open or closed fractures. An open fracture affects only the bone. Besides affecting the bone, a closed fracture also affects the surrounding skin and tissue.
Types of Fractures
- Hairline – a difficult-to-identify partial break that usually affects only a small part of the bone
- Stress fracture – a fracture caused by overuse
- Transverse – occurs straight across a bone
- Impacted – a fractured part of the bone is pushed towards another section of the bone
- Compression – a complete breakdown of the bone that usually affects the spine
- Spiral – a fracture that affects the surrounding area of the bone
- Oblique – a fracture that is diagonal or tilted
Although fractures can occur in almost all types of sports, they are more common in contact sports, such as football. Most fractures in sports involve the wrists, hands, ankles, feet, and collarbones. Stress fractures are more common in sports and activities that require repetitive movements, such as long-distance running. When a fracture occurs, one may experience pain, swelling, and redness. Complex fractures can break the skin.
Contusions are the second most common type of sports injuries. Athletes in contact sports are more vulnerable to contusions. While most contusions are minor and heal quickly, severe ones cause complications, such as deep tissue damage. Contusions occur when connective tissue and muscle fibers are crushed by direct trauma.
They can happen when one falls or jams the body against a hard surface. Patients with contusions often experience pain and swelling that can affect the nearby joint’s range of motion. A bluish discoloration might appear as a result of torn blood vessels.
Muscle Cramps and Spasms
When a cramp occurs, the muscles contract or tightens suddenly. A cramp can last between a few seconds to a few minutes. They are caused by involuntary contractions of one or more muscles (muscle spasms). Although muscle cramps and spasms are more likely to occur in the leg, they can be experienced in other parts of the body, such as the hand, foot, arms, and abdomen.
Lacerations and Abrasions
In simpler terms, lacerations and abrasions are cuts and scrapes. A laceration is a cut on the skin caused by blunt trauma. Abrasions occur when the skin comes in contact with a rough surface. While you can clean and bandage minor lacerations and scrapes at home, major ones might require a sports medicine physician’s attention. Deep cuts can penetrate through the fat layer, causing damage to the nearby tendons and nerves.
One significant difference between a sports medicine physician and a conventional doctor is that we understand your urgent need and urge to get back to your sport. Besides treating sports-related injuries and medical conditions, a sports medicine physician also designs treatments and therapies that make you healthier and stronger, improving your sports performance.