Why Seeing a Sports Medicine Primary Care Physician Is Important for Young Athletes

By Larissa Biggers
July 20, 2023
A boy wearing a soccer jersey smiles at the camera while his team huddles together behind him

If your child experiences sport-related pain or injury, an appointment with a sports medicine primary care physician may be the best option for getting them back in the game. Here Rebecca Wadlinger, DO, a sports medicine primary care physician at Duke Sports Medicine Green Level, answers common questions about what she and her colleagues do, the conditions they teat, and more.

What is a sports medicine primary care physician?

Sports medicine primary care physicians 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. Wadlinger 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 physicians 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, she may involve physical therapists and occupational therapists, mental health providers, orthopaedic surgeons, or dietitians in her patient’s care.

Can sports medicine primary care physicians help children cope 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.

Do sports medicine primary care physicians perform surgery?

No, they only provide non-surgical care. When your child is injured, Dr. Wadlinger performs a complete evaluation and promptly refers them to an orthopaedic surgeon specializing in their injury.

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 or sick visits. They are primary care doctors who act as specialists in sports medicine. They can help athletes manage medical conditions that may affect their performance and overall health. 

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