By Dev K. Mishra, M.D.,?President, Sideline Sports Doc, Clinical Assistant Professor of Orthopedic Surgery, Stanford University

Key Points:

  • Sports medicine specialists have specific training in working with health conditions affecting athletes and sports performance
  • Family and friends can be a very good source for recommendations on good sports medicine doctors
  • Doctor search tools from two verified medical professional organizations can be another excellent source to find a sports medicine specialist

Last week I offered some pointers in helping you figure out whether you need to see a doctor for a?possibly serious knee injury. This?week I?d like to expand on that a bit by offering some tips on who exactly you should see for any type of sports medicine injury or condition.

Not all health issues in athletes need to see a sports medicine specialist. For example, let?s say you have a really congested sinus that?s preventing you from training or working out. That?s a very common condition and can be quickly handled through your primary care doctor or pediatrician. However, if you have a possibly serious injury that may or may not require surgery, if you have a condition that?s ongoing and affecting athletic performance, or if you?d just prefer to see someone who ?gets it? when working with athletes and competition- you may be better off with a sports medicine specialist.

Sports medicine specialists generally are trained in two different pathways. Either you?re trained as a surgeon (an Orthopedic Surgeon), or you?re trained in a non-surgical specialty such as Emergency Medicine, Family Medicine, Internal Medicine, Pediatrics, or Physical Medicine+Rehabilitaon.

If you?re really concerned that you have an injury that could need surgery then an orthopedic surgeon would be your best choice. Seeing an orthopedic surgeon doesn?t necessarily mean that we?ll always recommend surgery for a problem, in fact I?d say that at least 75% of the issues we see in our practice at Stanford will not require surgery. If you have a problem that is not something that needs surgery, such as concussion management, heat illness, asthma, diabetes, etc. you?ll be better to see a non-surgical sports medicine specialist first.

Here are some tips to help you find the right sports medicine specialist:

  • If you or your family already has a relationship with a sports doctor, start there. Even if it?s not that doctor?s specialty, their staff can usually direct you to the right person when making an initial appointment.
  • Ask around to friends and teammates. Others with your injury will be a good source to tell you about their experiences.
  • Use a ?find a doctor? tool through one of our main sports medicine societies. Most orthopedic surgeon team doctors are members of the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine and you can?find members here. Most non-surgical sports medicine specialists are members of the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, and you can?use their search tool here. Members of these two professional organizations have credentials and expertise in sports medicine and typically take care of professional, collegiate, and high school teams. You?ll find doctors even at HMOs through these verified sites. Be cautious about just Googling ?sports medicine doctor? in your local area- there?s no telling what you?ll find.
  • Do a web search of your local professional sports team doctors, cross reference through one of the two search tools above
  • And finally? once you?ve identified the doctor or doctor?s group, call their office and check whether they are ?in-network? with your insurer. Fortunately, the field of sports medicine is now so large that even if your first choice isn?t in-network, chances are strong that someone really good is.


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