What Is Sports Medicine?

If your child is injured while exercising, participating in a sport, or doing any type of physical activity, you may be advised to see a sports medicine healthcare provider for treatment.

About sports medicine specialists

Sports medicine healthcare providers have special training to restore function to injured patients so they can get moving again as soon as possible. They are experts in preventing illness and injury in active people. Sports medicine healthcare providers do work with professional athletes. But they also treat children and teens involved in sports and adults who exercise for personal fitness. Plus, they treat people who have physically demanding jobs, like construction workers.


Sports medicine is not a medical specialty in itself. Most sports medicine healthcare providers are certified in internal medicine, emergency medicine, family medicine, or another specialty. They then get additional training. Others specialize in treating injuries in children and teens, whose growing bodies can be quite different from those of adults. They are generally board-certified in pediatrics or family medicine with additional training in sports medicine. Some, but not all, sports medicine healthcare providers have surgical training, too, usually as orthopedic surgeons.

Other experts who are not healthcare providers may work with a sports medicine healthcare provider to provide care:

  • Physical therapists. They help people rehabilitate and recover from injuries.

  • Certified athletic trainers. These trainers provide rehab exercise routines to help patients regain strength. They also develop conditioning programs to prevent future injury.

  • Nutritionists. They may help with needed weight loss or weight gain. They can provide dietary advice to help people improve their physical functioning. 

Reasons to see a sports medicine specialist

Your child may see a sports medicine healthcare provider for an injury such as:

  • Ankle sprain

  • Fracture

  • Knee and shoulder injury

  • Tendonitis

  • Exercise-induced asthma

  • Heat illness

  • Concussion

  • Eating disorder

  • Cartilage injury

Sports medicine healthcare providers can also give advice on nutrition, supplements, exercise, and injury prevention.

When to call a sports medicine healthcare provider

If your child has a major injury during exercise or sports, it's probably best to seek care right away at an emergency room. Don't wait to see a sports medicine specialist. Signs of a major injury include severe pain, swelling, numbness, and an inability to put any weight on the injured area. If none of these symptoms are present, have your child rest at home and call your child's healthcare provider for guidance. You may want to ask for a referral to a sports medicine specialist.

Most sports injuries do not need surgery. Treatment for a sports injury can include taking pain relievers, putting ice on the injured area, and keeping it immobilized with a cast or sling. In some cases, surgery may be needed to fix torn tissue or realign bones.