5 things you didn’t know about sports medicine
Not all orthopaedic surgeons are trained in sports medicine
For the Summit Daily
Editor’s Note: Sponsored content brought to you by Vail-Summit Orthopaedics and Neurosurgery
Sports has always been a big part of Dr. Cunningham’s life. In the 1930s, his grandparents started selling ski equipment out of their general store
in the Adirondacks of upstate New York. Over time, their business grew and they went full-time into running a ski shop. Later, their son, who was an Olympic downhiller, took over the ski shop and opened other ski shops. He also started a rafting company.
“I played sports throughout high school and college and during those years tore my ACL and needed surgery. I was inspired by my local orthopedist, Dr. Gunther in Troy, N.Y., who cared for me. I later had other orthopaedic surgeries and treatments, and I identified and liked all of my orthopaedic doctors and became more interested in this field of medicine,” Dr. Cunningham said.
Dr. Cunningham served as Chief of Surgery at Vail Valley Medical Center for eight years and is the busiest and longest-tenured sports medicine surgeon at Vail-Summit Orthopedics and Neurosurgery. To learn more about his background or to book an appointment, visit http://www.vsortho.com.
Orthopaedics is the study of diseases and disorders of the muscles, ligaments, tendons and bones of the body — including fractures and injuries — in patients of all ages, according to the American Medical Association.
In sports medicine, physicians have more experience with the injuries of athletic people, including ways to minimally treat those injuries so patients can return to their beloved sports and activities.
“Experience is huge in what we do,” said Dr. Richard Cunningham, an orthopaedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine at Vail-Summit Orthopaedics and Neurosurgery.
Here are five things you might not know about the sports medicine field.
- Sports medicine is a subspecialty within orthopaedic surgery
Orthopaedic surgery has numerous subspecialties, such as orthopaedic oncology, foot/ankle, pediatrics, shoulder and elbow, spine and sports medicine.
“There are really two definitions of sports medicine. 1) The medical and surgical treatment of injuries resulting from sports and athletic activities, and 2) It is a subspecialty within orthopaedic surgery whereby orthopedists choose to complete an additional year of fellowship training in sports medicine in which they refine and further develop their skills caring for these injuries, particularly utilizing arthroscopic or minimally invasive techniques,” Dr. Cunningham said.
- Subspecialties within subspecialties
Sports medicine orthopaedic surgeons also specialize in specific injuries and areas of the body. For example, Dr. Cunningham specializes in shoulder and knee injuries, as well as orthopaedic trauma. He has pioneered ACL repair surgery in the mountains with a technique that uses small instruments and anchors to arthroscopically repair and save a torn ACL ligament instead of always completely removing the damaged ligament and reconstructing it with a tendon graft. This groundbreaking ACL repair technique has helped patients return to sport in half the time of a normal ACL reconstruction surgery.
- The life of a sports medicine doctor is hectic
Like the other surgeons at Vail-Summit Orthopaedics & Neurosurgery, Dr. Cunningham works long days and many weekends. Dr. Cunningham sees patients in the office three days per week and does surgeries two days per week. On weekends when he’s not on call as an emergency doctor, he’s catching up on patient emails, MRIs and charting. He tries to keep at least one weekend day work-free.“On an average day in the office, my team and I see 40 patients or so,” he said. “I usually have 12-hour days in the office and then surgery days are also 12 hours. On a typical surgery day, I would do eight surgeries. Usually, I have a number of quick surgeries (i.e. knee scopes) and then more complex cases later in the day (i.e. ACL reconstructions and rotator cuff repairs). I take ER call every sixth night and every sixth weekend. Winter weekends on call are very busy and you are working most of the weekend doing surgery on patients with emergent fractures.”
- Not all orthopaedic physicians are trained in sports medicine
In orthopaedics, a doctor can only be called a sports medicine specialist if he or she has done a sports medicine fellowship, which is one year of additional medical training. Dr. Cunningham said this training is typically done at a big university’s orthopaedic program, covering professional and college athletic teams and working with other orthopaedic sports medicine leaders in the field.
Dr. Cunningham did his sports medicine fellowship at the University of Pittsburgh, which is regarded by orthopedists as one of the best sports medicine programs in the country. He worked with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Pittsburgh Penguins during his training.
- Many, but not all, sports injuries require surgery
Dr. Cunningham treats many of his patients’ injuries without surgery whenever possible. In the absence of surgery, Dr. Cunningham might establish a diagnosis and then help guide the patient’s physical therapy treatment to get them back to their desired activities. “However, when someone requires surgery, I do mainly arthroscopic surgery of both the knee and shoulder,” he said. “Common surgeries that I do are arthroscopic ACL reconstructions, rotator cuff repairs, meniscus repairs, and shoulder dislocation surgeries. I also treat a wide array of fractures such as clavicle and tibia fractures.”
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