What are Sports Orthopedics?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 25 March 2019
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Sports orthopedics is an area of medical practice focusing on musculoskeletal injuries associated with sports. It is part of sports medicine, a field that includes physical therapists, nurses, and doctors interested in caring for athletes throughout their careers. To become a specialist in sports orthopedics, people must complete medical school and an orthopedics residency, receiving special training in sports medicine. Some people pursue fellowships after residency to get more experience with athletes.

When athletes are injured, there are some advantages to seeing a specialist in sports orthopedics. These doctors are familiar with sports and the ways the body can be injured at athletic events and during athletic activities. Their familiarity with sports also includes knowledge about how athletes train, which can be very useful when working with an athlete during treatment and recovery from an injury. A less experienced doctor might not make the soundest recommendations because of a lack of familiarity with athletics.

Sports orthopedics includes surgery to treat conditions requiring surgical repair, such as fractures or joint damage. It also incorporates assessment of patients with suspected musculoskeletal injuries, development of treatment and recovery plans after surgery so patients can get fit as soon as possible without exacerbating injuries, and working with athletes to help them work out safely so they can avoid injuries.


People in this field can practice in a variety of settings. Some work in standalone sports clinics while others may be associated with a hospital or athletic center. Some doctors travel with individual athletes or teams to offer continuous support. Continuity of care for people with sports injuries can be important and many people prefer to work with the same care provider, when possible, because the doctor will be familiar with the patient's medical history and specific care needs.

Doctors focusing on sports medicine usually belong to professional organizations and attend conferences and other events to network with colleagues, learn about new treatments, and pursue continuing education options to keep their skills sharp. Research in the field of sports orthopedics is often advancing, and it is important for doctors to keep up with the latest information about diagnosis, treatment, and the options available to their patients. Membership in professional organizations can also provide doctors with more opportunities to reach out to patients, and will be an asset on employment applications, where such memberships are viewed as a sign that someone is committed to providing high quality care.



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