Primary Care Sports Physician

What is a primary care sports physician?

A primary care sports medicine physician is specially trained in care of nonsurgical orthopedic conditions and other injuries or disorders commonly seen in athletes and physically active individuals of all ages. A physician in this field helps to manage and coordinate care of injuries in a way that helps patients maximize function and minimize disability and time away from sports, work or school. They focus on treating the whole patient to prevent injuries, improve performance and enhance overall health.

Your sports medicine physician:

  • Is board certified in a primary care specialty such as Family Medicine, Internal Medicine, or Pediatrics, but may also specialize in Emergency Medicine or Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
  • Has obtained additional training in sports medicine through an accredited fellowship (subspecialty) program in Sports Medicine
  • Has passed a national sports medicine certification examination allowing them to hold a Certificate of Added Qualification in Sports Medicine (C.A.Q.S.M.)
  • Adds to their expertise through participation in continuing medical education activities
  • Actively participates on sports medicine teams, which may include surgeons, athletic trainers, physical therapists, coaches, and other personnel

Orthopedic surgeons and primary care sports medicine physicians are very similar. They differ only in the fact that orthopedic surgeons have special training in surgical care of many of these same conditions. Approximately 90% of all musculoskeletal and sports related injuries are non-surgical. As such, sports medicine physician can maximize non-operative treatments, guide appropriate referrals to physical and occupational therapists, and, if necessary, expedite referrals to an orthopedic/sports surgeon. Common examples of musculoskeletal problems treated include:

  • Acute injuries (i.e. ankle sprains, muscle strains, knee/shoulder/back injuries, simple fractures)
  • Overuse/degenerative injuries (i.e. arthritis, rotator cuff and other forms of tendonitis, stress fractures)
  • Medical treatment, injection, and/or combination of other therapies for tendonitis and various joint pains

Additionally, primary care physicians have received training in the non-musculoskeletal aspects of sports medicine. Common examples of these include:

  • Concussion and other head injuries
  • Athletes with chronic or acute illnesses (i.e. mono, asthma, or diabetes)
  • Exercise prescription for patients who want to increase their fitness
  • Injury prevention
  • “Return to play” decisions in the sick or injured athlete
  • Recommendations on safe strength training and conditioning exercises
  • Healthy lifestyle promotion

Most sports medicine physicians have experience working as a team physician for local and/or national teams, sports clubs, and collegiate/high school athletes. These physicians are responsible for pre-participation physical exams, injury assessment, medical care, and other related issues.

Primary care sports medicine physicians are ideal physicians for athletes and other physically active individuals. They are also an excellent resource for the individual who wishes to become active or begin an exercise program.


American Medical Society of Sports Medicine. “What is a Sports Medicine Specialist?”

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