What is the difference between a Sports Medicine Physician and an Orthopedic Surgeon?

Sports Medicine physicians specialize in the complete health care of athletes. Orthopedic Surgeons specialize in the operative treatment of injuries.  Both are trained in the care of musculoskeletal problems. Approximately 90% of all sports injuries are non-surgical.  When surgery is necessary, the Sports Medicine physician can expedite referral to the Orthopedic Surgeon.


Sports Medicine physicians are additionally trained in the non-musculoskeletal aspects of sports health. Common examples include: concussions, exercise-induced asthma, overtraining and fatigue, return to play issues after being sick or injured, nutrition, training and conditioning.

To become a Sports Medicine Physician, one must complete a 3 year residency in Family Medicine, Internal Medicine, Emergency Medicine, or Pediatrics and then a 1 or 2 year Fellowship,  specifically focused on Sports Medicine - the comprehensive care of the athlete's orthopedic, medical and nutritional needs.


The Sports Medicine physician's training is spent primarily in the office, in the training room, on the field, at mass participation events, and in human performance labs.  The Orthopedic Surgeon's training is primarily spent in the operating room, emergency room, and hospital.  An Orthopedic Surgeon may do a surgical sports medicine fellowship focused on gaining additional surgical skills in shoulder and knee arthroscopic surgery.

Sports Medicine Physicians are also ideal doctors for the non-athlete as well - for those who wish to begin an exercise program, for the "weekend warrior", for the "industrial athlete", for the older wise individual, for any individual who has sustained an injury, experiences musculoskeletal pain, or is looking to improve their overall health.