The Evolution of Orthopedic Sports Medicine

August 23rd, 2018 Becki Andrus
Fitness Technology and Sports Monitoring Data Concept Background

What is Orthopedic Sports Medicine?

To put it simply, this is an umbrella term that encompasses a variety of healthcare professionals who specialize in taking care of athletes. In general, a sports medicine physician can care for athletes of any age and skill level, from youth sports all the way up to the professionals.

Sports medicine physicians who focus primarily on keeping the bones and muscles of athletes in the best shape possible are referred to as orthopedic specialists. This type of sports medicine physician concentrates on preserving and restoring the body through medical, surgical or rehabilitative methods.

Common Diagnoses and Prescribed Treatments

There are a lot of common musculoskeletal problems that these specialists are able to treat and even prevent with proper care. In fact, many of these problems are ones that you may be familiar with or even suffer from yourself.

The two most common types of trauma that they regularly deal with are acute injuries and overuse injuries. Examples of acute injuries include things like ankle sprains, strained muscles, bone fractures, knee trauma or shoulder problems. Common instances of overuse injuries include tendonitis, rotator cuff pain, and stress fractures. Specialists that are trained to treat athletes also deal with concussions, nutrition issues, injury prevention and managing athletes with chronic illnesses such as diabetes or asthma.

Because these conditions are so common, the treatments are also pretty standard. Athletes and parents of young athletes are probably familiar with a few of these commonly prescribed treatments as well.

For strains and sprains, professionals typically recommend cutting back on training while reducing swelling and pain in the injured body part. This regimen usually includes ice and some type of painkillers like ibuprofen or naproxen. For common foot and ankle injuries, taping or bracing is usually recommended to help the joint recover more quickly. Strains and lower back stress are usually treated with a combination of prescribed rest and physical therapy exercises.

How the Practice Began

Both sport and orthopedic sports medicine are a relatively young field in the United States. The first sports-related medical institution was founded in 1954, and the first orthopedic sports medicine society was created in 1972.

Initially, the idea began among a group of surgeons who believed that athletic injuries, in particular, should receive their own specific diagnosis and treatment. This, combined with a rise in the number of people who were participating in sports of all types, reinforced the idea that sports medicine should be further explored.

At first, the field was fairly limited in its ability to help athletes fully recover from injuries. Before the advent of sports medicine, though, any type of injury could have easily been the end of an athlete’s career. Even today, this is an issue that many athletes worry about. Back in the early days, specialists would often recommend treatments such as icing, stretching and very long periods of rest, all of which meant that injured athletes would have to halt their training and participation for extended periods of time. While this was the safest course at the time, being out of the game for so long would inevitably hurt the player’s career. This meant that better options needed to be found.

Advancements and Current Treatment Methods

Despite only being decades old, there are constant advancements and improvements in the prevention, treatment, and diagnosis of sports-related injuries.

Most recently, there has been a serious emphasis on preventative treatment and taking proactive steps to head off potential injuries. This, in particular, is important for athletes that play for schools or professionally, because, for them, their sport is their livelihood. Some may view sports-related medicine as a luxury, but it is important to remember that for many, it is essential to get the best treatment possible to get back into the game as quickly as they can.

In addition to proactive treatment, medical advances such as arthroscopic surgery have also revolutionized how these specialists are able to care for athletes. Arthroscopic surgery, usually just referred to as arthroscopy, is a special kind of procedure that involves making a small incision into the affected joint. This allows a surgeon to insert a thin, flexible scope into the damaged joint in order to better examine and treat the patient. The point that this is minimally invasive is important because it means shorter recovery time and less chance for complications. Arthroscopy advancements are allowing surgeons to better treat common problems such as hip trauma, knee injuries and ACL tears.

Regenerative Medicine as the Future for Athletes

Looking ahead, the future of sports medicine will definitely incorporate advanced biological treatments for even faster and better injury repair. Currently, physicians all over commonly use platelet-rich plasma injections to stimulate healing for ligament tears and certain other injuries. However, in the near future, it will most likely be commonplace to see athletes being treated with their own blood and bone marrow. In addition to this, many physicians believe that there will be a natural transition from platelet-rich plasma injections to stem cell injections.

While usage of stem cells has not picked up much speed yet due mostly to moral and ethical disagreements, the future is certainly promising. Regenerative medicine has the potential to not only dramatically accelerate healing, but it also has the ability to improve pain and increase a range of motion over the long term, which is something athletes with chronic injuries still struggle with. This also means common problems like plantar fascia pain, arthritis, ligament tears or sprains and other similar injuries can receive targeted treatments with more hope of a permanent fix.

Though sports-related medicine is a relatively new specialty, the future is bright and wide-open. Today, athletes are able to receive astounding levels of care that will keep them healthy and active for years to come.

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1 comment

  1. My brother is a really big runner, but has been feeling a little off recently and decided to see someone about it. I really appreciate how much I’ve learned from this article. I didn’t know about advancements such as arthroscopy were out there and that they have a shorter recovery time than other procedures. It has really helped alleviate some of my worry.

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