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A sports medicine surgeon helps amateur and professional athletes recover from fractures, sprains, tendon and ligament conditions, and other injuries. Surgeons diagnose and treat injuries that affect the bones, joints, muscles, ligaments and tendons. After finishing orthopedic surgery residencies, sports medicine orthopedic surgeons complete fellowships that focus solely on sports medicine.
Although surgery is part of the orthopedic sports medicine job description, it’s not the only option the surgeons offer their patients. In fact, they may only recommend surgery, if other treatments and therapies aren’t successful.
The orthopedic surgeon description includes performing physical examinations and evaluating range of motion, muscle strength and other functions when determining the cause and consequences of an injury. Surgeons may order tests to confirm their diagnoses, such as X-rays or computed tomography, magnetic resonance imaging, ultrasound or bone scans.
Treatment options may start with rest, physical therapy and casts or boots and advance to surgery if needed. Open surgery, once the only option if an athlete suffered a torn rotator cuff or needed a new hip, has been replaced with minimally-invasive surgical techniques in many cases.
Despite technological advances in surgery, sports medicine orthopedic surgeons still perform open surgery as needed. For example, it may be the best option to reattach a tendon or treat a compound fracture that shatters a bone.
Sports medicine surgeons regularly rely on their knowledge of body mechanics to assess injuries and help athletes avoid new injuries after they recover. They may coordinate care with physical therapists and athletic trainers to ensure that patients receive the support and services they need during their recoveries.
Education and Training
Aspiring orthopedic surgeons apply to orthopedic surgery residency programs during the fall of the senior year of medical school. Admission to these programs is very competitive. Good medical school grades are just one factor under consideration when programs select new residents. Previous research experience, sub-rotations in orthopedic surgery, strong letters of recommendation and a variety of outside interests can increase a student’s chances of receiving an orthopedic residency offer during Match Day, held annually in March.
Residents rotate through a variety of sub-specialties, including reconstruction, trauma, spine surgery, hand surgery, sports medicine and laparoscopic surgery during the five-year orthopedic residency program. Although they may only assist with surgeries at the beginning of the residency, residents perform complex surgeries by the end of the program.
Following graduation from the orthopedic residency program, orthopedic surgeons can choose to specialize by completing a fellowship, as long as they’ve passed their medical licensing examination. During one-year sports medicine fellowships, fellows treat patients in outpatient settings, work with high school or college sports teams in training rooms, perform surgery and contribute to research projects.
Sports medicine orthopedic surgeons are eligible for board certification from the American Board of Orthopaedic surgeons, after they complete a one-year fellowship, pass an examination and submit information on 115 operative cases and 10 non-operative cases.
Salary and Job Outlook
Sports medicine surgeons are highly compensated for their skills and knowledge of sports injuries and treatments. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that surgeons earned a mean annual salary $251,890 as of May 2017, but orthopedic surgeons may earn even more. The average yearly salary reported for orthopedics was $489,000 as of 2016, according to Comet. Orthopedic salaries increased by 55.2 percent between 2011 and 2016, and are expected to continue to rise.
- American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery: Subspecialties
- American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine: Pathways to a Career in Sports Medicine
- American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons: How to Obtain an Orthopedic Residency
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Surgeons
- Trinity Orthopedics: Sports Medicine: Orthopedic Surgeon vs. Primary Care Doctor
- Learn.org: How Can I Become an Orthopedic Surgeon?
Holly McGurgan has a degree in journalism and previously worked as a non-profit public relations and communications manager. She often writes about career and lifestyle topics. Her work has appeared online on Healthline, Working for Candy and other sites.