One of the wonderful aspects of living in the Bay Area is the wide variety of athletic activities available in our region, from hiking to skiing, to tennis, golf, jogging, and more. And most are available year-round, thanks to our mild weather. Unfortunately, no matter how careful you are, accidents and injuries happen. When they do, a sports medicine specialist can take care of what ails you.
Sports medicine focuses on the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of athletic and other movement-related injuries. Most people think of sports medicine as a specialty for athletes and weekend warriors. However, sports medicine specialists treat plenty of repetitive motion or stress injuries that have nothing to do with playing sports. It would be appropriate for a sports medicine specialist to treat any of the following patients:
- A professional, amateur, or recreational athlete
- A patient with a work-related injury
- A patient with general musculoskeletal injuries
- A chronic arthritis sufferer
- A person who is obese or has a sedentary lifestyle and wants to start exercising safely
- A patient who wants to remain active despite medical conditions that make exercise a challenge
At El Camino Hospital, we treat a wide range of sports injuries, ranging from strains and sprains to major tears of entire muscles, tendons and ligaments. Our sports medicine specialists determine whether to prescribe surgery or try physical therapy and/or other treatments. They help patients improve function, minimize disability, and get back to work, school, and sports. If the injury does not permit a return to sports, our doctors can recommend appropriate fitness programs. Ultimately, the goal of a sports medicine specialist is to help patients maintain fitness and wellness over a lifetime.
Sports Medicine Specialists
Sports medicine is not yet a formally recognized specialty for residency training, so there is no board certification for it. However, physicians who have an interest in sports medicine can take a sports medicine fellowship focusing on sports injuries after they complete their residency. Sports medicine draws from two specialties:
- Primary care physicians (PCPs) do their residency in family medicine but have a special interest in sports medicine. If you have a high level of physical activity, a primary care physician with sports medicine expertise would be a good choice of PCP for you. He or she can easily manage a mild injury or common fracture - anything not requiring surgery. If you need surgery, you will be referred to an orthopedic surgeon.
- Orthopedic surgeons complete an orthopedic surgery residency. Some orthopedic surgeons choose to do a fellowship in a specific joint, such as a "shoulder fellowship," and may end up specializing in one type of surgery. Sports injuries requiring surgery are typically very obvious and should be treated by an orthopedic surgeon, since primary care sports doctors do not perform surgery.
If you do not have any signs of a serious injury, then you should start by seeing your regular doctor, who will refer you to a sports medicine doctor if necessary. If you have symptoms indicating the injury is severe, seek the attention of a primary care sports medicine doctor or orthopedic sports medicine surgeon. Check with your insurance plan first to find out if your plan requires a referral from your primary care physician.
Finding a Sports Medicine Physician
Sometimes physicians will tell you they can handle sports injuries, because they tend to see a lot of them. That doesn’t necessarily make them "sports medicine" doctors. If you are unsure of your physician’s qualifications, here are some questions you can ask:
- What is your primary board certification?
- Did you complete a sports medicine fellowship?
- Do you specialize in one particular area (e.g., knee, shoulder)?
- What experience do you have in treating athletes?
- What types of injuries do you treat most often?
The El Camino Hospital Find A Doctor lists all of our physicians who have completed additional training in sports medicine. (Select "Sports Medicine" in the specialty tab when searching for a physician.) Many of our physicians also maintain their own websites where you can learn more about their background and the injuries they commonly treat.
Our Sports Medicine Experts
Working with high-caliber athletes provides El Camino Hospital sports medicine physicians with a wealth of experience in dealing with injuries. They have treated every kind of sports injury - from mild sprains to ligament tears to major breaks. Our sports medicine specialists have visible roles as local team doctors throughout the Bay Area. They have cared for Stanford University sports teams and other local professional teams and performance groups, ranging from football to ballet.
What to Do if You Are Injured
If you've been injured, the first and most important thing to do is to stop the activity that is causing you pain. Many injuries will get better with home treatment. If you think your injury is mild, try the P.R.I.C.E. treatment:
- Protection: If injured, don't play through your pain. Protect your injury and avoid putting weight on it.
- Rest: Don't overdo it. Rest promotes effective healing.
- Cold: Apply cold compresses when bleeding and/or or swelling is present. It provides some pain relief and limits swelling. Don't put ice directly on the skin and don’t ice for more than 15 minutes at a time. (Either heat or cold can be used for muscle spasms, joint stiffness, low back pain, or muscle aches. Choose what feels good to you.)
- Compression: Wrap an ace bandage around a swollen area. Compression helps limit swelling and can help with the pain.
- Elevation: Raise the injured area above the level of the heart. For example, if you are lying down, prop your injured ankle up on some pillows. Elevation draws blood away from the injury to help reduce swelling.
Signs of a Serious Injury
Of course, sometimes home treatment is not enough. If you have any of the following signs of injury, you should seek medical treatment right away:
- A bone or joint that looks "crooked" or moves abnormally
- You can’t bear weight or use your limb/joint without it "giving way"
- Your limb will only move part of the way (reduced range of motion)
- You have major swelling at the place of injury
- Your skin color changes dramatically (beyond bruising)
- A pain in your joint lasts more than 48 hours
- You press a certain spot on your limb and feel significant pain
- You feel numbness or tingling in a certain spot
- Your injury does not get better after a few days of home treatment