The Sports Center

HealthLeaders Magazine—New York, NY—January 8, 2010

Famous athletes and big sports programs may be the public face of sports medicine, but at its core are local communities and, increasingly, the unconventional athlete.

When Michael Phelps made history at the 2008 Olympics and won his eighth swimming gold medal of the games, Scott A. Rodeo, MD, was watching poolside. As one of about 30 medical professionals selected by the U.S. Olympic Committee to join its medical team, Rodeo was tasked with guiding swimmers through doping control, and he spent about 45 minutes with Phelps after each of his gold-medal races.

A few weeks later, Rodeo was back at the Hospital for Special Surgery, a 162-licensed-bed orthopedic hospital in New York, where he serves as codirector for sports medicine and shoulder surgery, taking care of high school kids.

Sports medicine can seem like a glamorous service line at times—surgeons enjoy a pretty favorable payer mix, are easily marketable, and even occasionally work with professional athletes and teams. But most sports medicine service lines are built on a much more relatable patient base: high school and college athletes or weekend warriors who have overextended themselves during a workout.

In fact, patients on both ends of the age spectrum who aren't associated with an official sports team make up the fastest growing segments of the sports medicine case mix, says Rodeo. "We're seeing overuse and sports-type injuries now in older athletes—people in their 60s, 70s, and 80s who are quite active. We're also seeing that in kids under age 10, who are also very active," he explains.

The uptick, particularly for the very young patients, may be due to better diagnostic techniques, Rodeo says. Physicians have gotten much better at recognizing and diagnosing sports-related injuries. But there is also an ironic side effect to the growing cultural emphasis on fitness and health: More Americans are active and exercising at older ages than in the past, and as a result they're getting more of the shoulder, knee, and ankle injuries that are sports medicine's foundation. Their healthier lifestyles are in some ways actually hurting them.

There are also opportunities for sports medicine doctors to reach out to high schools and groups within the community that might not have athletic trainers or any sort of regular sports medicine coverage. Hospital for Special Surgery sends physicians and athletic trainers to football games at public high schools in underserved areas that often have little care, and it hosts walk-in clinics on Monday mornings for those athletes to be seen, says Rodeo.

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