What is the difference between an Orthopedic Surgeon and Sports Medicine Physician and how do I know if I need one?

What is the difference between an Orthopedic Surgeon and Sports Medicine Physician and how do I know if I need one?

Physicians who specialize in sports medicine have a significant amount of training in the prevention and treatment of an illness or injury regarding the musculoskeletal system. The musculoskeletal system includes joints, nerves, tendons, bones, ligaments, and muscles. These specialized physicians treat their patients to maximize function and minimize further disability and downtime from everyday activities, such as exercising, sports, or work/school.

Some of the most common musculoskeletal conditions include:

  • Acute injuries (ankle sprains, muscle strains, knee & shoulder injuries, and fractures)
  • Overuse injuries (such as rotator cuff and other forms of tendonitis, stress fractures)
  • Osteoarthritis, the most common joint disorder (classified as primary or secondary to some known cause)

It is very important that patients and their Sports Medicine Physician develop a partnership so that every decision made will follow the patient’s preferences, needs, values, and wants. A Sports Medicine Physician is dedicated to serve every individual and values diversity in every situation.

An Sports Medicine Physician will typically treat the following diseases and conditions:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Osteoporosis
  • Arthritis
  • Torn cartilage
  • Bone tumors
  • Sports-related injuries
  • Torn ligaments
  • Bursitis
  • Tendon injuries
  • Knee injuries or abnormalities
  • Leg injuries or abnormalities
  • Shoulder injuries

Over 90% of musculoskeletal conditions can be successfully treated without surgery, including medical and injection therapies. However, when non-operative treatment is not enough, an orthopedic surgeon will be the one to perform treatment.

The surgeons that are part of the sports medicine community are known as orthopedic surgeons or sports medicine surgeons. While orthopedic surgeons can choose to work in specific fields (such as pediatrics, reconstructive surgery, or sports medicine) they are extensively trained in musculoskeletal medicine, the conditions that can arise, and their corresponding operative treatments. It is common for orthopedic surgeons to complete a sports medicine fellowship where they gain additional skills in shoulder and knee surgery.

There are also many surgical procedures that an Orthopedic Surgeon will perform for their patient. The most common include:

  • Osteotomy: When bone deformities are cut and/or repositioned to the correct position
  • Fusion: When bones are fused together to heal into a single bone
  • Joint (revision, partial, and total) replacement: When an affected joint is replaced with a prosthesis.
  • Arthroscopy: When small cameras are used to view, diagnose, and treat the problems located in the joint.
  • Soft Tissue Repair: When soft tissues (such as a ligament or tendon) are mended.
  • Internal Fixation: This uses pins, screws, or plates to hold broken bones in their proper position for healing.

A visit with an orthopedic surgeon will typically start with a physical examination and include the review of previous tests or diagnostics and/or medical history. Often, diagnosis is achieved after completing an X-Ray, MRI, blood test, or another diagnostic tool. Because there is usually more than one treatment option for certain musculoskeletal conditions, the orthopedic surgeon will discuss with their patient which treatment will best fit their lifestyle and current health status. If possible, the surgeon will recommend a minimally invasive procedure which involves smaller incisions, lower risk of complications, and typically faster recovery times.

The main goal of an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine physician is to properly diagnose and perform treatment that is catered to every individual for optimized recovery. By doing this, an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine physician have the opportunity to treat their patients in a way that gets them back in the game of life.

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