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Primary Care Sports Medicine


Sports medicine physicians, who may be allopathic or osteopathic physicians, focus their practice on health care for athletes and physically active individuals. Sports medicine primary care physicians treat anyone who is physically active help them improve performance, enhance overall health, prevent injury and maintain their physical activity throughout their lives. Some work with professional and amateur sports teams.

While some sports medicine physicians are surgeons who repair damage to tendons, ligaments and joints, primary care sports medicine is non-surgical care. It involves:

  • Comprehensive health care for the active patient, including diagnosis and treatment of sports or activity -related and unrelated injuries and illnesses
  • Use of manual techniques to prevent and treat muscular and skeletal conditions common in athletes
  • Special knowledge of the principles of athletic conditioning
  • Focus on injury prevention and rehabilitation, including injuries common to specific sports
  • Nutritional guidance to build strength and endurance in support of athletic performance

Sports medicine is not a recognized residency training specialty. However, a physician can achieve special qualifications in sports medicine after completing a residency program in another specialty. Most primary care sports medicine physicians choose family medicine. Many also choose to specialize in pediatrics, internal medicine, emergency medicine, neuromusculoskeletal and rehabilitation medicine.

Working Conditions

As a primary care sports medicine physician, you may work exclusively with a particular athletic team, a university sports program or a fitness club. Or you may work in a private or group practice.

In addition to treating patients, primary care sports medicine physicians often consult with athletic trainers, coaches and athletic directors on injury prevention and performance enhancement.

This field is expanding beyond the traditional realm of professional and college athletics. More and more Americans are seeking primary care sports medicine physicians to improve health, maintain strength and endurance and sustain an active lifestyle.

Salary Range

The average salary of a primary care sports medicine physician is $202,600. Salaries depend on where the physician is employed and the amount of experience the physician has.

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About a Career as a Primary Care Sports Medicine Physician

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Note: The American Osteopathic Academy of Sports Medicine reviewed this profile.

Academic Requirements

While sports medicine is a recognized subspecialty, physicians cannot obtain primary board certification in primary care sports medicine. You must first complete three years of residency training in a recognized specialty, such as family medicine, emergency medicine, internal medicine or pediatrics.

Once you have completed your residency, you can pursue a fellowship in sports medicine, which generally lasts from one to two years. A good deal of what you will learn during your fellowship will be about sports injuries and how to treat them. Your sports medicine training will also focus on exercise physiology, rehabilitation, nutrition, cardiology and treatment of traumatic injury. Primary care sports medicine emphasizes the prevention of injury through proper training and technique.

You will also spend time in an orthopedic surgeon’s office and assisting in orthopedic surgery in order to learn first hand about surgeries your patients may need. It’s also likely that you will get hands-on training as a team doctor for a college or high school.

You will also continue training in in the specialty you chose.

Once you have completed your fellowship, you will take an exam to receive a Certification of Added Qualification (CAQ) in sports medicine. A physician who successfully completes the CAQ is considered to be board certified in sports medicine. Continuing education is required to maintain certification. The two organizations that certify physicians are the American Board of Medical Specialties and the American Osteopathic Association’s Bureau of Osteopathic Specialists.