What is Sports Medicine; Why is it Important for Athletes?

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Are you an athlete wanting to prevent injuries or just keep your body healthy? Then seeing a sports medicine professional is a good idea for you.

The term sports medicine is a broad one, but at its root, it means using medicine to improve the on-field performance of athletes, help athletes recover from injuries, and prevent future ailments from cropping back up.

America is perhaps the most sport-savvy country in the world. Here, playing sports isn’t just a hobby, but an activity that can pay for college and lead to a career. 

But no matter what level of athlete you are, a sports medicine professional can help steer you in the right direction towards your athletic goals.

To learn more about how sports medicine can help you, check out Dr. Dold’s Sports Medicine Podcast.

How is Sports Medicine Different From Seeing a Regular Doctor?

The major difference between a sports medicine practitioner and, say, your regular doctor is his or her area of specialization (see the next section for more).

If you’re an athlete that’s suffered an injury (or it happened at the gym), many regular doctors will tell you that you should stop playing that sport, rest, or pick a more low-impact activity like walking or swimming.

But if you’re an athlete, or just enjoy going to the gym, that approach probably won’t work for you. 

A sports medicine professional is under the assumption that you care deeply about sports, and that your number one goal is to get back on the field, court, or rink. They use the latest science, research, and rehabilitation tools to get you back to your best as quickly as possible.

Today, athletes have pressure to perform and get back on the field quickly. Sports medicine professionals grow along with the latest ACL surgeries and performance enhancement techniques continue to evolve, ensuring you’re getting cutting edge treatment.

On the other hand, general practitioners aren’t necessarily required to study sports science or know the research that helps an athlete get back to their best on-the-field. 

Different Types of Sports Medicine

An athlete goes through different types of things that some general practitioners won’t understand. Here’s a brief description of three types of sports medicine professionals, and how their area of expertise might boost performance.

Exercise Physiologist

Exercise physiologists understand how the human body and its systems operate at the physiological level. This means they can interpret data related to the cardiovascular system, conduct studies that pertain to force generation in your joints, and more.

Seeing an exercise physiologist would make sense if you were looking for a specific routine, such as a warmup protocol. Based on the biofeedback they receive from the tests they run, they can give you information to help you make a decision.

Some exercise physiologists work in a rehabilitation center or hospital, while others work in a sports performance facility. Most of them specialize in one area, so you’ll have to do some research to find the right person for your circumstances.


Nutritionists look at what we put into our bodies and how it optimizes (or hinders) performance. A sports nutritionist may specialize in a specific area of sport (running, for example), so look for someone that knows your sport if possible.

Why’s this important? Because the nutritional needs of a powerlifter will be much different than those of a runner, for example.

Athletes, to an extent, are what they eat—or at least, they perform to the level of their nutrition. Working with these types of sports medicine professionals can help optimize your performance in a way no general practitioner will be able to.

Physical Therapist

Physical therapists restore performance after injuries, whether they are minor tweaks or full-blown surgeries. 

A PT’s job is to get you back to one hundred percent so you can perform again.

For fine motor skills (if you injured your hand, for example) you might see an occupational therapist instead.

Should You See a Sports Medicine Professional?

Each case is different, but you’d primarily want to see a sports medicine professional for a few reasons, such as:

  • If your normal healthcare provider can’t provide the type of advice you’re looking for.
  • If you’re looking to optimize performance on the field.
  • If you’re rehabbing from a surgery or injury.
  • If you’re not feeling well during sports performances and want to evaluate all possible culprits (nutrition, for example).
  • If you want a customized protocol for your sports training or fitness routine.

The other instance where seeing a sports-specific practitioner makes sense is when you’ve tried everything else—you wouldn’t be the first athlete to go through several different general practitioners and still not get results. If you’ve been dealing with the same few injuries for years, or just don’t feel like you’re performing to your best, it might be time to try something new.

Most professionals accept health insurance, so you’ll want to find someone that accepts yours. Otherwise, you may be paying out of pocket, which can get pricey.

Why Sports Medicine is Important For Athletes: Wrap Up

Seeing a sports medicine professional is an investment in your on-field performance. Whether you’re wanting to see an exercise physiologist, a nutritionist, or a physical therapist, all of these practitioners can help you feel and perform your best when it matters most.

Learn about the services we provide here so you can decide if we’re the right solution for you.


Danh Ngo PT, DPT, OCS, SCS

Doctor of Physical Therapy

Board Certified Specialist in Orthopedic and Sports Medicine

Mind Body Health Results Coach

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