What is a sports medicine doctor?
There are two types of "sports medicine" doctors. Non-surgical, or primary care sports medicine doctors, and orthopedic surgeons.
How are primary care sports medicine doctors trained?
For non-surgical care, most primary care sports medicine doctors choose family medicine as their baseline training, but other choices for initial residency training prior to doing sports medicine include pediatrics, internal medicine, emergency medicine, neuromusculoskeletal, and rehabilitation medicine. After they complete medical school and their residency, they embark on additional sports medicine training.
During sports medicine fellowship training for primary care doctors, a great deal of time is spent learning more about sports injuries. This includes time spent in orthopedic surgeons' offices, as well as assisting in orthopedic surgery.
Training for orthopedic surgeons is different.
What kind of care does a sports medicine doctor provide?
Sports medicine doctors become very good at musculoskeletal/orthopedic injuries, but are also well trained in more traditional medical problems, such as asthma, hypertension, diabetes, etc. They make excellent overall doctors for active people or athletic teams. Your sports medicine doctor may be your choice to receive all your primary care.
Is there an additional examination in "sports medicine" for non-surgical doctors?
Certificate of Added Qualifications (CAQ) in sports medicine is a rigorous examination that covers the medical and musculoskeletal aspects of sports medicine. Since 1999, only doctors who have done a sports medicine fellowship can sit for the exam.
The two organizations that certify physicians are the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS), and the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) Bureau of Osteopathic Specialists. Any claim of "board certification" or "certificate of added qualifications" must be accredited by one of these two organizations.
Orthopedic surgeons do not take this exam.
Who should I see first for my injury: a primary care sports medicine doctor or an orthopedic surgeon?
There are some cases that are so obviously surgical that you would be better off seeing an orthopedic surgeon first, if your insurance allows it. However, most sports injuries and common fractures can be comfortably managed by a primary care sports medicine physician. Even if your injury will require surgery, a primary care sports medicine doctor can often make this determination. As you may imagine, they also know the local orthopedic community very well in case you need a good recommendation for a surgical referral.