What Does a Sports Medicine Doctor Do? Interview with Jennifer Soo Hoo, MD

Learn how a sports medicine physician helps people prevent and recover from sports-related injuries.

September 18, 2022

Many people have questions about sports medicine doctors and when they can be most helpful. For clarity, I asked Jennifer Soo Hoo, MD, to answer a few questions about her work. Dr. Soo Hoo is a dual board-certified physician in Sports Medicine and Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, Assistant Professor in Weill Cornell Medicine’s Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, Medical Director for the Adult Sports Medicine Service, and Fellowship Director of the New York Presbyterian Sports Fellowship Program.

When and why do people see a sports medicine doctor?

Sports medicine physicians are devoted to working with people who have exercise or sports related injuries, want to prevent sports-related injuries, want to enhance their performance in their sport or activity, and are looking to maintain a healthy, active lifestyle. Sports medicine physicians have specialized training in both treatment and prevention of all joint, muscle, and tendon injuries. In addition, sports medicine physicians can help take care of elite athletes and are often team physicians for high school, collegiate, and professional sports teams. 

There are multiple types of sports medicine physicians. My residency training is in physical medicine & rehabilitation (PM&R) followed by a fellowship in sport medicine. This training has allowed me to be proficient in musculoskeletal anatomy and biomechanics as well as an expert in diagnostic ultrasound and ultrasound-guided procedures. Other avenues into sports medicine include training in family medicine, emergency medicine, pediatrics, and orthopedics.

What are the most common conditions that sports medicine doctors treat? 

We treat all joint, muscle, and tendon injuries. Common conditions we treat include rotator cuff tears, frozen shoulder, tennis elbow, meniscus tears, hip labral tears, shin splints, osteoarthritis, tendinitis, ligament sprains, muscle strains, and fractures. We also can use our expertise in aiding recovery with ultrasound guided procedures. 

What qualifies as a sports injury? How do patients know if their injury is considered sports-related or not? 

A sports injury is any damage or injury to a part of your body due to sports activity or exercise activity. These types of injuries are usually caused by overuse, direct impact, or application of force that is greater than what that body part can structurally withstand.  Sports medicine physicians not only treat competitive athletes, we provide comprehensive evaluation and care for everyone from the weekend warrior who injured their knee skiing, to the bike commuter who injured their shoulder falling off their bike, to the person who walks regularly for exercise and starts to develop hip pain. Our goal is to apply the same expertise to return each person as quickly as possible to full function.

Do some patients see you proactively to prevent an injury? 

Yes, we specialize in evaluating and discussing strategies to help prevent injury. One of the most common reasons people get injured is because they start a new sport or activity and progress too quickly. 

What are the top 3 things people can do to prevent sports injuries?

  1. Warm up properly before a workout.
  2. Listen to your body. Don’t ignore aches/pains that do not improve within 24-48 hours.
  3. Rest and recover. People usually need 1-2 rest days per week.

How is a sports medicine doctor different from an orthopedic surgeon? 

There are two types of sports medicine physicians: surgical and non-surgical. Surgical sports medicine physicians are orthopedic surgeons that then complete sports medicine fellowship. They specialize in surgical management of sports medicine injuries such as ACL reconstructions and rotator cuff repairs, etc.

I am a non-surgical sports medicine physician and specialize in non-operative treatment of musculoskeletal conditions and sports injuries. Approximately 80-90% of all sports injuries are non-surgical. As a sports medicine physician, I can diagnose the cause of injury/pain, provide detailed prescription to physical therapy, maximize non-operative treatment including ultrasound-guided injections and procedures, and if necessary, expedite referral to an orthopedic/sports surgeon. 

How does your work relate to physical and occupational therapy?

We work very closely with physical and occupational therapists. Our role is to help diagnose the cause of injury or pain, educate our patients, and prescribe the best management strategy. We refer patients to physical and occupational therapists frequently as part of the best management strategy. Most injuries can be successfully treated with good physical or occupational therapy.

What other members of the medical team do sports medicine doctors collaborate with? 

In addition to the ones mentioned above, we frequently collaborate with rheumatologists, neurologists, and endocrinologists. We also commonly refer to nutritionists and acupuncturists.

Is there anything else you want people to know about your work?

The biggest misconception is that most people believe they need to see an orthopedic sports medicine physician for their care. In actuality, the majority of sports medicine injuries are non-surgical in nature and can be best managed by a non-surgical sports medicine physician. 

We’re grateful to Dr. Soo Hoo for sharing these insights. If you or your loved ones need help navigating the healthcare system, reach out to an expert health advisor. Health advisors provide concierge services, impartial insights, care coordination, and ongoing personal support, simplifying the process of accessing great healthcare.

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