When Do I Need a Sports Medicine Doctor?

Sports medicine is a specialized medical field that involves treating patients who have been injured playing sports, exercising for personal fitness, or working a physically demanding job. From ACL injuries, rotator cuff and meniscus tears to knee replacements, sports medicine physicians help patients manage pain and restore mobility to injured joints and muscles.

Florida Medical Clinic Orlando Health orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Ira Guttentag has been the Medical Director and Head Team Physician for the Tampa Bay Lightning since 2002. In addition to being an orthopaedic consultant for the Toronto Raptors and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dr. Guttentag provides treatment for multiple high schools in Hillsborough and Pasco counties, as well as for the TBU and Florida Premiere soccer clubs.

In this blog, he provides insight into the type of conditions he treats, who he treats, and answers the question: “What is sports medicine?”

What does a sports medicine provider do?

Sports medicine health care providers include orthopaedic surgeons, physical therapists, athletic trainers, nutritionists, and strength coaches who help patients who have been injured during sports or exercise. They primarily help prevent and treat orthopaedic conditions, which are issues affecting the muscles, bones, joints, ligaments, and tendons.

After a health care provider finishes their core medical training, they’ll often go on to receive specialized training in sports medicine. Orthopaedic sports specialists complete a five-year orthopaedic residency after medical school and then a one-year fellowship in sports medicine.

The goal of a sports medicine doctor is to:

  1. Restore function to an injured limb or joint
  2. Get you feeling better and back to sports, exercise, or work as soon as possible
  3. Help you avoid future injuries

Who can see a sports medicine doctor?

Sports medicine specialists not only treat professional athletes, but recreational athletes of all levels, too. Whether you participate in a youth league, play for a high school, college or travel club, a sports medicine doctor can get you back in the game.

Sports medicine specialists treat patients with a wide range of orthopaedic conditions, including:

  • Meniscus injuries
  • ACL injuries
  • Rotator cuff injuries
  • Knee arthritis & joint replacement
  • Shoulder instability
  • Osteoarthritis

What treatments do they provide?

Sports medicine is a wide field and treats a range of orthopaedic conditions and injuries using both non-operative and surgical treatments.

In addition to prescribing basic physical therapy and fitting patients with braces and orthotics, orthopaedic surgeons can do everything from minimally-invasive arthroscopic surgeries to total joint replacements. 

Surgeons can also coordinate care with nutritionists, physical therapists, and other health care providers depending on your individual health needs. From there, your team of providers can help with:

  • Physical therapy. Physical therapists use a variety of techniques to help patients restore function and mobility to an injured body part. They can also help prevent future injuries by showing you how to stretch, bend, and lift in ways that don’t strain your joints and muscles.
  • Pain management. Sports medicine providers can help you find the best way to manage pain, whether that’s through physical therapy, medication, or another type of treatment.
  • Dietary management. Sports nutritionists create personalized diet plans for athletes depending on their training routines, lifestyle, and athletic performance goals.
  • Surgery. When your injury can’t be healed with rest and physical therapy, an orthopaedic surgeon can discuss your options for surgical intervention.

When to See a Sports Medicine Specialist

If you’ve sustained a severe injury while playing a sport or other physical activity and are experiencing extreme pain or loss of mobility, then you should seek emergency care right away.

The most common sports injuries are overuse injuries, which are caused by repetitive stress. Unlike acute injuries that occur suddenly and require immediate care (such as a twist and fall), overuse injuries are more subtle and tend to worsen slowly over time (such as a runner’s knee). 

So how do you know when it’s time to see a doctor for an overuse injury? It depends on how the injury is affecting your daily life. You should see a sports medicine doctor if: 

  • Your pain or loss of mobility doesn’t go away after a few days of activity modification
  • You can’t fully move an injured body part (like being unable to raise your arm above your head or bend your knee fully)
  • You can’t participate in your regular activities (whether that’s sports, exercise, work, or even daily chores) because of your injury
  • You notice swelling, numbness, or weakness in the injured area

Even if you can still do most or all of your daily activities, it’s important to talk to a doctor if your injury isn’t getting better. That’s because injuries can get worse in the future if left untreated—so you may not have problems now, but you might later on.

Schedule a Visit with the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Head Team Physician

An injury doesn’t have to end your athletic career or keep you from going back to the gym. With the help of an experienced sports medicine team, you can get moving again and learn how to prevent future injuries.

Dr. Guttentag urges patients to see a doctor when an injury doesn’t go away in a few days with rest. In his time treating professional athletes, he knows treating injuries as soon as possible can reduce the risk of future pain and complications.

Start the path toward recovery today by scheduling an appointment with Dr. Guttentag at our Brandon, North Tampa, Wiregrass, or Zephyrhills locations. Telemedicine services are also available.

About Ira Guttentag, MD, FACS

Dr. Ira Guttentag is a board-certified orthopaedic surgeon and is also the Medical Director and Head Team Physician for the Tampa Bay Lightning since 2002. He is an orthopaedic consultant for the Toronto Raptors and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In addition, he is the Team Physician for the Tampa Bay United and Florida Premiere soccer clubs, as well as a for multiple high schools in Hillsborough and Pasco counties.

He specializes in performing knee and shoulder reconstruction, ligament reconstruction, meniscus and rotator cuff repairs, and minimally invasive outpatient partial and total knee replacements.

Dr. Guttentag’s goal is to find treatment options that fit each patient’s individual needs. Whether you’re a pro or just exercise to stay fit, and whether your injury needs non-operative or surgical care, Dr. Guttentag wants to help you get back in the game.


Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to substitute professional medical advice. Always talk with your doctor before starting or stopping medications or treatments.


Orthopaedics, Sports Medicine & Spine

About this author.


Ira Guttentag, MD, FACS

Sports Medicine, Knee & Shoulder Reconstruction

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