Sports Medicine Physician

A sports medicine physician treats athletes and non-athletes alike. They’re highly trained to treat injuries to your musculoskeletal system, which includes your bones, muscles and joints. They don’t perform surgery, but they can treat several conditions like sprains, strains, tears and breaks.

What is a sports medicine physician?

A sports medicine physician is a highly trained healthcare provider who specializes in treating your musculoskeletal system. Your musculoskeletal system includes your bones, muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments and connective tissues. Sports medicine physicians treat injuries caused by active lifestyles for both athletes and non-athletes alike.


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What is a sports medicine physician assistant?

A sports medicine physician assistant (PA) is a healthcare provider who works with a sports medicine physician. A PA can do some of the same things that a physician can do, but they require supervision from a physician. A PA doesn’t have to attend medical school, but they’re highly trained in sports medicine and they’re board certified.

What is the difference between a sports medicine physician and an orthopaedic surgeon?

Sports medicine physicians and orthopaedic surgeons both specialize in treating the human body’s musculoskeletal system. This includes your bones, muscles and joints. The main difference is that orthopaedic surgeons perform surgery on these parts of your body, and sports medicine physicians don’t operate on your body. An estimated 90% of all sports-related injuries don’t require surgical treatment.

What does a sports medicine physician do?

A sports medicine physician can:

  • Diagnose, treat and manage injuries to your musculoskeletal system and underlying conditions that can affect your physical performance.
  • Educate athletes and non-athletes about injury prevention, nutrition and safe ways to exercise, condition and build strength.
  • Provide medical care during sporting events.
  • Offer guidance on when it’s safe for athletes to return to play after an injury.

In addition, a sports medicine physician can treat:


How do you become a sports medicine physician?

Sports medicine physicians need at least 12 years of education to earn their qualifications to treat patients. Their education typically consists of:

  • Four years in undergraduate study.
  • Four years in medical school.
  • Three years in residency.
  • One year in fellowship.

After completing their education, sports medicine physicians need to pass national certification exams in sports medicine.

A sports medicine physician is usually board-certified in one or several of the following areas in addition to sports medicine:

  • Emergency medicine.
  • Family medicine.
  • Internal medicine.
  • Pediatrics.
  • Physical rehabilitation.

Who sees a sports medicine physician?

Sports medicine physicians are well-known for treating athletes. You may see them on the sidelines of major sporting events. But sports medicine physicians treat anyone who has an injury or non-surgical concern regarding their musculoskeletal system. You can see a sports medicine physician if you’re looking to start physical activities, participate in light physical exercise programs or are a competitive athlete.


When should I visit a sports medicine physician?

You should visit a sports medicine physician if you:

  • Have a sports-related injury.
  • Have an injury that affects the performance of your musculoskeletal system.
  • Want to improve your activity level or performance.
  • Need guidance on safe and healthy ways to exercise.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Sports medicine physicians are experts who take care of your musculoskeletal system. You can find these providers on the sidelines of major sporting events or at your local hospital, clinic or rehabilitation center. You can see a sports medicine physician if you have an injury to your bones, muscles, tendons or joints. You don’t have to be an athlete to see a sports medicine physician. They can help anyone improve their overall health and activity levels.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 01/13/2023.

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