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What is Sports Medicine?

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Updated December 10, 2007

Sports medicine is the study and practice of medical principles related to the science of sports, particularly in the areas of:

What is a Sports Medicine Specialist?
A sports medicine specialist is an individual with specialized education and training who focuses on the medical and therapeutic aspects of sports participation and physical activity. This title of sports medicine specialist does not necessarily mean the specialist is a physician. There are bachelors, masters, and certificate programs in sports medicine.

What is a Sports Medicine Physician?

Sports medicine physicians have specialized training in the field in medicine that deals with sport or exercise-related injuries. Their primary focus is on the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of injuries that occur during sports and other physical activity.

A sports medicine physician receives special training during a fellowship program in sports medicine after finishing a residency program in another specialty, such as primary care or orthopedic surgery. There are currently no widespread residency programs in sports medicine.

Most primary care sports medicine doctors complete a three-year family medicine residency after medical school, and then choose to focus on sports medicine. An orthopedic surgery residency leads to a career as an orthopedic surgeon, many of who treat athletes.

What is Sports Science?
Sports science, also referred to as exercise science, is a focused study and application of the principals of physiology, anatomy, and psychology as they relate to human movement and physical activity. Exercise science is still quite young, and much of the field is focused on conducting research on the various adaptations to exercise or the lack of exercise, of the human body. This work ranges from the elite athlete to the general population; children to elderly; and the physical components of fitness to the psychological.

Careers in Sports Medicine and Sports Science
There are many career and job opportunities in fields related to sports medicine. Typically, employment opportunities involve working with generally healthy or active people in two major areas:

  1. Lifestyle improvement or performance enhancement
  2. Injury prevention or recovery.

The goal of sports medicine professionals is to help individuals achieve optimal health and performance goals. Those pursuing degrees in sport medicine or sports science, often work in clinical, academic or service employment. Professions include trainers, coaches, researchers, nutritionists, sports psychologists, nutritionists and many others.

Sports Medicine Programs
Schools are beginning to offer more and more Sports Medicine and Sports Science curriculum. Only a few years ago, you would be hard-pressed to find much selection if you wanted to study sports medicine in college. The standard education program consisted of physical education or medical school. Now departments with degree programs specific to sports medicine, athletic training, exercise science, health promotion, kinesiology, sports coaching and a variety of other disciplines are popping up at nearly every university. The choice is yours.

Sports Psychology Programs
Sports psychology is a growing profession and many athletes seek the services of psychologists, trainers and coaches who can help them with the mental aspects of sports training. Elite athletes, professionals and Olympians all have tremendous physical skills and research is finding that at these levels mental training skills (focus, relaxation, goal-setting and reducing anxiety) are critical in separating first from second place.

Certified Athletic Trainer (ATC) Programs
An athletic trainer is a highly skilled professional who has education and training in athletic health care. To become certified ATC’s must pass an examination that covers a variety of topics within the six domains of athletic training including:

  • Prevention of athletic injuries
  • Recognition, evaluation and immediate care of athletic injuries
  • Rehabilitation and reconditioning of athletic injuries
  • Health care administration
  • Professional development and responsibility
Once athletic trainers pass the certification examination they can use the designation ATC.

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