by Marc McKenna, M.D., Chestnut Hill Hospital
You don’t have to be a competitive athlete to benefit from the care of a sports medicine doctor. Sports-related injuries – such as a sprain, strain or broken bone that happen because of physical activity – can happen to anyone, regardless of age or fitness level.
Physicians skilled in sports medicine can help prevent and treat injuries that affect the body’s flexibility, mobility and strength. And, just as important, these specialists can provide important information about how to exercise properly and make the most of your body’s physical capabilities and limitations, so you can pursue the activities you enjoy, safely.
Types of movement-related injuries
Acute injuries occur because of an incident, such as impact or a fall. These injuries might include a deep cut or bruise, an ankle sprain, a muscle strain, a dislocation or bone fracture. Acute injuries involve body trauma and should be treated immediately.
Chronic injuries – or “overuse injuries” – develop over a period of time, as a result of repetitive motion, such as running, overhead throwing, or extending a limb (such as swinging a tennis racket). Overuse injuries can also occur when you increase the intensity, duration or frequency of an activity too quickly.
Other factors that contribute to overuse injuries involve not warming up sufficiently before beginning the activity, improper technique, wrong equipment (lack of good running/walking shoes, for example), or specific anatomical issues such as weak knees, flat arches, or an old injury that flares.
Examples of these types of injuries might include stress fractures, tendinitis or shin splints. A chronic injury doesn’t have to be evaluated immediately, but if left untreated, it will likely become more severe over time.
What is a sports medicine specialist?
A sports medicine specialist is either a doctor trained in the prevention and non-operative management of injuries, or an orthopedic surgeon with specialized sports medicine training. These specialists help build, maintain and protect your body’s bones, joints, tendons and ligaments to support smooth, efficient and pain-free activity.
Non-orthopedic sports medicine specialists are usually board certified in family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics or physical medicine, and have completed advanced training in sports medicine. Depending on your typical activity level (a daily walk or training for a marathon), the nature and severity of your injury, and your treatment goals, your care team may include other specialty physicians and surgeons, athletic trainers and physical therapists.
Approximately 90 percent of injuries treated by a sports medicine specialist are non-surgical, according to the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine. A sports medicine doctor can offer a variety of non-surgical treatments, typically by partnering with physical and occupational therapists and other rehabilitation professionals. Your sports medicine specialist can recommend alternatives to surgery, involving less downtime, so you’re able to resume your chosen activity more quickly – armed with new knowledge about how to prevent future injuries.
Conditions treated by a sports medicine specialist might include:
• “Return-to-play” treatment of sick or injured athletes
• Recommendations on safe strength training and conditioning exercises
• Exercise regime for patients who want to increase their fitness
• Injury prevention
• Concussion and other head injuries
• Nutrition counseling
To diagnose your injury and determine treatment, a sports medicine specialist will take a thorough history of your health background and activities, as well as a physical exam. Your doctor may also order an X-rays and occasionally, imaging tests such as a bone scan or MRI. Treatment depends on the nature and severity of the injury.
Whether you’re simply hoping to alleviate pain and increase mobility so you can carry out daily activities, or you’re an athlete anxious to return to the field of play, a sports medicine specialist can design and carry out a treatment plan to help you to stay active.
Do I need to see a doctor?
When you sustain an injury, often the first question is whether to try to treat it yourself, or see a doctor. First, determine if you’re experiencing soreness or pain. Temporary soreness after physical exertion can be normal, but if discomfort persists for more than a week or gets worse, see your doctor. Some at-home relief measures for minor injuries include:
• P – Protect from further injury.
• R – Restrict activity.
• I – Apply ice.
• C – Apply compression dressing or bandage.
• E – Elevate the injured area.
If you sustain an acute injury, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends looking for deformity in the injured area (such as an unusual bend or twist to the limb, or protruding bone), significant swelling and changes in skin color.
If there are deformities, significant swelling or pain, immobilize the area and seek medical help. Remember to always see a doctor before beginning a new exercise plan to make sure you’re physically fit and able to perform the exercise.
Learn more about sports medicine by visiting www.chestnuthillhealth.com, click on “Health Resources” and “Interactive Tools,” and type in “Sports Medicine” for information on tests and procedures. Or, call 215-753-2000 for an appointment with sports medicine specialist Dr. McKenna.