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Why Seeing a Sports Medicine Doctor Is Important for Young Athletes

If your child experiences sport-related pain or injury, an appointment with a sports medicine primary care doctor may be the best option for getting them back in the game. Here Rebecca Wadlinger, DO, a sports medicine primary care doctor at Duke Health, answers common questions about what she and other sports medicine primary care doctors do, the conditions they treat, and more.

What is a sports medicine primary care doctor?

Sports medicine primary care doctors are primary care doctors with additional training and board certification in sports medicine. They provide non-surgical care for people with pain, injury, or other sports-related issues. "We care for the whole person, no matter their age or activity level," said Dr. Wadlinger. "When I see a stress fracture, for instance, I'm not only thinking about the broken bone but why your child broke that bone." To delve deeper, Dr. Waldinger asks questions about diet and eating habits. She may recommend a bone density scan or a nutritional consultation. "Sometimes we're the ones who discover disordered eating or another issue," she said.

What conditions do sports medicine primary care doctors treat?

"We see patients with anything from acute knee injuries to low energy and endurance." Dr. Wadlinger said. She and her colleagues offer a range of services such as image-guided injections to treat pain and inflammation, in-office ultrasound to diagnose injuries, concussion care, nutritional counseling, ACL injury prevention programs, and more. "I am part of a team," she explained. Depending on the situation, physical and occupational therapists, mental health providers, orthopedic surgeons, or dietitians may also be involved.

Can you help my child with the mental pressures of competitive sports?

"That's definitely on our radar," said Dr. Wadlinger. "We understand when someone's injured, it can change their whole identity, or they may feel pressure to return to their sport before they are ready." Sports medicine primary care doctors can help athletes manage these challenges and, when needed, refer them to a mental health professional.

What if my child needs surgery?

Although 90% of sports injuries do not require surgery, they should receive prompt medical attention when your child is hurt. Their sports medicine primary care doctor can perform a complete evaluation and promptly refer them to an orthopedic surgeon specializing in their injury, whether a torn rotator cuff or a torn meniscus.

Does my child still need to see their primary provider for checkups or when they are sick?

Dr. Wadlinger and her colleagues do not typically see patients for well-child visits. Still, they can help athletes manage conditions such as asthma or diabetes that may affect their performance and overall health. 

About Duke Health

Advancing Health Together. As a world-class academic and health care system, Duke Health strives to transform medicine and health locally and globally through innovative scientific research, rapid translation of breakthrough discoveries, educating future clinical and scientific leaders, advocating and practicing evidence-based medicine to improve community health, and leading efforts to eliminate health inequalities.Learn more

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