Differentiating Sports Medicine from Orthopedic Surgeons


Sports medicine can be defined as the specialization of care and prevention of sports related injuries in athletes. Orthopedic surgeons specialize in the operative treatment of injuries, including those that can be related to sports. Although both professions can diagnose and treat musculoskeletal conditions, most injuries related to sports activities are non-surgical. Approximately ten percent of sports related injuries require surgery and when those diagnoses occur, a sports medicine professional will refer their patients to orthopedic surgeons.

Sports medicine physicians also differ from orthopedic surgeons in their capability of treating conditions that are not related to the musculoskeletal system. For example, they can treat concussions, asthma, nutrition, and conditioning among other things. The education and training differs between sports medicine and orthopedic surgeons as well. To practice in sports medicine, a three-year residency is required followed by a one or two-year fellowship that focuses on the medical needs of athletes. Orthopedic surgeons must complete a five-year residency and complete a one or two-year fellowship. Becoming an orthopedic surgeon requires more education and training since they need knowledge about a broad range of body areas and procedures.

The training required for sports medicine physicians and orthopedic surgeons also differs. Training for sports medicine physicians occurs in human performance labs or on the field where they can get hands-on experience. Training for orthopedic surgeons is performed primarily in emergency rooms and hospitals since this is where their expertise is needed the most. The biggest difference in the two professions, however, would be that orthopedic surgeons can choose to complete a sports medicine fellowship program and be qualified to practice both. The reversed situation is not true: a sports medicine physician cannot complete a fellowship to become an orthopedic surgeon. Therefore, an orthopedic surgeon is far more educated, trained, and qualified to treat an array of conditions relating to the musculoskeletal system.

Orthopedics treat and prevent injuries caused by sports and physical activity by using the most effective methods.