Robert Najarian, MD
Peter MacArthur, MD

You’ve suffered a sports injury, and you need to see a doctor. Should you head to the orthopedic surgeon? Or would a primary care sports medicine specialist be a better bet?

Sports injuries come in all shapes and sizes, and treatments vary, too. It helps to understand what each of these sports medicine specialists does best — and how they work together to deliver the very best care.

  • Orthopedic Surgeons. Orthopedic surgeons treat injuries of the musculoskeletal system. Some, but not all, have additional training in sports medicine. Orthopedic surgeons can diagnose and treat all musculoskeletal injuries — even those that don’t require surgery. However, these specialists also have expertise in surgical treatments such as replacing damaged joints or repairing torn ligaments and tendons.
  • Primary Care Sports Medicine Doctors. Primary care sports medicine physicians usually have a background in a primary care field such as family medicine, internal medicine or pediatrics. They also have additional training in sports medicine. These specialists focus on the non-surgical treatment of sports injuries. Often, they also have expertise in managing concussions and performing ultrasound-guided procedures such as therapeutic injections of platelet-rich plasma or regenerative stem cells. And they can counsel patients on medical issues that don’t involve the muscles or bones, such as proper nutrition for active athletes with diabetes, or managing exercise-induced asthma.

Sports Medicine Doctors: Who Should You See?

Both orthopedic surgeons and primary care sports medicine doctors can diagnose and treat any type of sports injury, said Robert Najarian, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Inova Sports Medicine. So where do you start?

Orthopedic surgeons are often a good choice when you’ve had a traumatic injury, such as a ruptured ligament in the knee. With their focused expertise in the musculoskeletal system, they’re great at zeroing in on that injured body part to diagnose the problem and determine a treatment plan. Plus, they’re able to perform a surgical fix when needed.

Primary care sports medicine specialists tend to be a good first stop for recurring injuries or overuse injuries (like shin splints or tennis elbow) that develop over time. “Primary care sports medicine doctors can focus on the whole patient and help them correct issues that might be at the core of the problem,” Najarian said.

Teamwork for Sports Injuries

In a best-case scenario, you don’t have to choose between an orthopedic surgeon and a primary care sports medicine doctor — because they’re working together as a team.

At Inova Sports Medicine, a patient might start with primary care, later have surgery, and then return to primary care for any follow-up concerns. Meanwhile, patients often work closely with Inova’s physician assistants, physical therapists and athletic trainers. “We’re all involved in the coordinated care of patients,” Najarian said. “It really is a team effort.”

That close collaboration also makes it easier for patients to see providers when they need them, since orthopedic surgeons often spend more of their time in the operating room than in the office. “Working together frees up different providers to do the thing that they do best,” said Peter MacArthur, MD, a primary care sports medicine physician at Inova Sports Medicine.

Inova Sports Medicine stands out for its team approach to treatment, MacArthur added. “How a patient progresses through treatment depends on his or her specific injury, but we focus on using a multidisciplinary approach,” he said. That means providers are actually talking with one another to make sure patients get comprehensive care. “There’s definitely a back-and-forth,” he said.

Injured? Inova Sports Medicine’s team of experts will develop your personalized plan to get you back in the game. Request an appointment today!

Inova Sports Medicine is the Official Sports Medicine Partner of the Washington Nationals and the Washington Redskins.

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