Sports Medicine vs Physical Therapy: Which is Right for Your Injury?

An older man is lifting dumbbells with a doctor.

Sports Medicine vs Physical Therapy: Which is Right for Your Injury?

When faced with an injury, knowing the best route for recovery is essential. Two common healthcare fields that often come into play are sports medicine and physical therapy. This blog aims to shed light on the ongoing debate between “sports medicine vs physical therapy” and help you decide which might be more suitable for your injury.


Sports medicine and physical therapy both focus on treating injuries and enhancing physical performance, but they’re not the same. While both fields are integral to health and wellness, they have distinct roles and responsibilities. This article aims to clarify the areas of overlap and divergence, providing insights into their unique treatment strategies and methods. Understanding the difference between sports medicine and physical therapy can guide you in your rehabilitation journey and ensure you get the right help for your specific needs.

Ultimately, this knowledge can empower you to make informed decisions about your healthcare, particularly if you are an athlete or someone leading an active lifestyle.

Sports Medicine vs Physical Therapy – The Main Differences

A woman is helping an older woman in a pilates class.

The main difference lies in their approach to treatment. Sports medicine is usually the first line of treatment after an injury. The sports medicine physician diagnoses the injury and may recommend surgery if necessary. On the other hand, a physical therapist often steps in after a diagnosis or surgery to help the patient recover and regain function.

Furthermore, the setting where the treatment is provided can also differ. Sports medicine clinics are usually equipped to handle a range of treatments, from minor to major injuries. The sports medicine physicians in these clinics can perform surgeries and prescribe medications. Physical therapy centers, conversely, focus more on rehabilitation. They are equipped with various tools and devices to aid in mobility exercises and restore function, helping patients regain their normal life after an injury or surgery.

Training and Specialties

The training and specialties of a sports medicine physician vs physical therapist are quite different. A sports medicine doctor is a medical professional specializing in sports medicine after completing their general medical training. They can perform surgery and prescribe medications. A sports physical therapist, on the other hand, has a degree in physical therapy and uses therapeutic exercises to treat and prevent injuries. For more in-depth information on sports physical therapy, visit the National Library of Medicine.

Treatment Approaches

a manual therapy what is sports medicine vs physical therapy ?

Both sports medicine doctors and physical therapists use various treatment methods. However, a sports medicine physician may focus more on pharmacological treatments or surgical interventions, while a physical therapist in sports primarily uses non-invasive techniques like manual therapy, electrotherapy, and therapeutic exercises.

Sports physical therapists and sports medicine specialists have unique approaches to treating an injury. Sports injury specialists, who can be sports medicine doctors, are trained to diagnose and manage acute sports injuries and can provide surgical intervention if required. On the other hand, sports physical therapists excel at creating and implementing tailored rehabilitation programs for patients, focusing on improving mobility, strength, and overall function, and so play a pivotal role in an athlete’s recovery process.

When to See a Physical Therapist vs Sports Medicine Doctor

If you’ve sustained an acute injury like a broken bone or a severe sprain, it’s better to see a sports medicine doctor first. They can assess your injury and recommend the best course of action. If the injury is less severe, or you’re in the post-surgical phase, a personal trainer physical therapist can guide you through your rehabilitation.


Q: Can I see a physical therapist without seeing a sports medicine doctor first?

A: Yes, you can. Physical therapists are qualified healthcare professionals who can evaluate and treat various musculoskeletal conditions. However, for certain severe injuries or conditions, it’s advisable to see a sports medicine doctor first for a comprehensive evaluation and treatment plan.

Q: Can a sports medicine specialist help with sports-related injuries?

A: Yes, sports medicine specialists are specifically trained to handle sports-related injuries. They can provide comprehensive care from the time of injury through rehabilitation.

Q: Do professional athletes require sports physical therapy?

A: Absolutely. Professional athletes often work with sports physical therapists. These therapists help athletes recover from injuries, improve their performance, and reduce the risk of future injuries.

Final Whistle: Making Your Choice

In the debate between “sports medicine vs physical therapy,” the choice depends on the type of injury and its severity. Sports medicine doctors are the best first point of contact for severe injuries, while physical therapists excel at rehabilitation and management of chronic conditions. The key is understanding that these professionals work together to ensure optimal recovery and health.

Both sports medicine and physical therapy have your best interests at heart. Whether you’re an athlete looking to get back to form or someone dealing with a chronic condition, their ultimate goal is to help you regain your function and quality of life. So, consider your needs, consult with these professionals, and make an informed decision about your health and recovery. Be it sports medicine or physical therapy, both are there to guide you on your journey to health and fitness.

For professional PT in Back Bay, reach out to Sustained Fitness & Physical Therapy today! Our professional physical therapists possess the knowledge and skills to develop customized treatment plans for each individual patient.

Let us help you on your road to recovery!

a man in a green shirt smiling in front of a gym.

Dr. Adam Babcock PT, DPT

Sustained Fitness and PT

"We Help Active Adults Quickly Recover From Pain Or Injury So They Can Stay Active, Get Back To What They Love To Do, and Do It For Decades"