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The Difference Between Orthopedics and Sports Medicine

Sports Pain in Knee

If you injure yourself, both an orthopedic surgeon and a sports medicine physician can help you recover. Both types of doctors specialize in the musculoskeletal system. These mechanical structures include bones, joints, ligaments, fascia, tendons and muscles. While the physicians may overlap in the ability to diagnose and treat many conditions, they are separate specialties.

The 3 Main Differences Between Orthopedics and Sports Medicine

Many orthopedic surgeons and sports medicine physicians work together through a referral process, and both specialties also use the expertise of radiologists and physiotherapists as needed. Despite these similarities, both practices approach injuries and treatments differently.

1. A Different Focus
Orthopedic specialists tend to focus only on the musculoskeletal system. Sports medicine requires a deep understanding of orthopedics, but also brings in other approaches, such as lifestyle modifications, nutrition counseling and physical training.

2. Surgical Intervention
Orthopedic specialists can use surgical techniques to repair injuries and dysfunction of the musculoskeletal system. This does not mean orthopedic surgeons choose surgery every time or for every patient. Many prefer to begin with the least invasive approaches, and only use surgery when there are no other options to restore proper function to the affected area.

Sports medicine doctors can treat orthopedic and non-orthopedic issues. Only some sports medicine doctors perform surgery, but many choose to focus solely on non-surgical interventions.

3. Types of Patients
Orthopedic surgeons can treat any type of patient with any type of orthopedic needs, regardless of the reason for the condition. While they treat patients as a whole person, their primary focus is on the part of the body requiring immediate attention.

Sports medicine focuses on a person’s complete physical makeup, with an eye to maximizing performance and preventing injuries. Despite being called sports medicine, a sports medicine specialist may work with clients who are not athletes. They are an excellent resource for guidance when beginning a new training plan or just wanting to live a healthier lifestyle.

When to See an Orthopedic Surgeon

Orthopedic surgeons are often consulted for injuries requiring surgery, though many prefer to try non-invasive and minimally invasive procedures first. Some of the conditions they treat are:

  • Fractures, dislocations and bone fusions
  • Ruptured discs
  • Bone tumors, osteoporosis and arthritis
  • Carpal tunnel
  • Hip dysplasia, club foot and limb lengthening
  • Muscle, ligament and tendon tears
  • Joint replacements

When to See a Sports Medicine Physician

A Sports Medicine specialist can diagnose and treat many of the same injuries and issues as an orthopedic surgeon, but may refer severe cases if surgery is needed. They may also refer a patient to the surgeon if the injury is not responding to non-surgical treatment plans.

A sports medicine physician can:

  • Treat injuries such as concussions, sprains, fractures and damaged tendons and ligaments.
  • Treat chronic conditions like aching joints, overuse injuries and arthritis.
  • Help prevent injuries by ensuring safe training plans and nutritional advice.
  • Refer severe or complex injuries that require surgery to restore function to an orthopedic surgeon.

Your Doctor Can Practice Both Orthopedics and Sports Medicine

Many physicians choose to pursue training as both orthopedic surgeons and sports medicine physicians. This means they have extensive training and can offer surgical, non-surgical and lifestyle treatment plans without the need for a referral elsewhere.

At Silicon Valley Orthopaedics, Dr. Gay and Dr. Reynolds each combine orthopedic surgery and sports medicine, ensuring their patients have access to a full range of treatment options. With a focus on joint preservation and improved mobility, they can assist you on your path to wellness. If you are experiencing joint or muscle pain, contact the clinic today to book your consultation.

Posted on behalf of Silicon Valley Orthopaedics

39180 Farwell Dr., Suite 110
Fremont, CA 94538

Phone: (650) 379-4616

Fax: (510) 739-6522


Mon - Fri 8:00AM – 5PM

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Fremont Office

39180 Farwell Dr., Suite 110
Fremont, CA 94538

Phone: (650) 379-4616

FAX: (510) 739-6522


Foster City Office

1241 E. Hillsdale Blvd, Suite 205
Foster City, CA 94404

Phone: (650) 509-5909

FAX: (510) 739-6522


Silicon Valley Orthopadeics