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The History of Sports Medicine

Posted on May 25, 2021 by Martin Banks

What do your favorite athletes do when they get injured on the field? They head to the trainer, who applies sports medicine principles to help them get back into play.

What is this discipline all about? Learn more about the fascinating history of sports medicine and how it can potentially help you.

What Is Sports Medicine?

Sports medicine is a relatively new discipline, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t draw from long-standing, science-based techniques. It takes place under the guidance of specialized professionals and physicians. Please don’t confuse your average personal trainer with an athletic trainer — the latter has far more formal health care training under state rules.

Sports medicine serves four primary goals:

  • Injury recovery: You probably think of this aspect of sports medicine most often. It’s what you’ll see initiating on the field on game day.
  • Preventing future injury: Injuries can leave you on the disabled list.
  • Improving athletic performance: Sports medicine occupies itself with how to improve your performance on the field.
  • Increase mobility and function: Even when you hang up your game jersey for good, you want to keep playing for fun — sports medicine can help.

Even if you don’t play professional sports or join recreational leagues, you can benefit from sports medicine. How did this discipline arise?

A Brief History of Sports Medicine

As previously mentioned, sports medicine has a relatively short history in modern times, although healers have helped those injured in play or battle for far longer. It probably began with Imhotep, the world’s first recorded physician back in ancient Egypt.

During the second century AD, Galen became known as the father of this discipline by serving as a doctor to gladiators. He later moved to Rome and became the official physician to the emperor.

The modern discipline arose jointly between European scientists and American physicians. In the States, Dudley Sargent from Harvard University designed methods of testing physical strength and analyzing the typical diet and how it impacted performance.

Across the pond, Italian physiologist Angelo Mosso investigated muscular fatigue and the influence of altitude and physical education on it. He postulated that people get tired due to a chemical reaction involving the production of toxic substances like carbolic acid, which the body must then rest to eliminate.

The world’s first official sports medicine establishment arose in Dresden, Germany. There, they formed a congress for the scientific investigation of sports and physical exercise. Other countries soon raced to keep pace by establishing similar societies.

Since then, various countries have established individual rules. Italy, for example, requires all athletes to undergo an annual physical before competing. They have varying decrees in place, and those wishing to play sports must obtain such clearance.

Here in the United States, adult athletes face no such requirements. However, some school districts do require such clearance before participating in athletics.

It’s fascinating to think that the ancient Greek Olympians probably used sports medicine techniques. In modern times, Dr. J.C. Kennedy organized a team of physicians to accompany the Canadian Olympic team in 1968. In 1972, he became the first Chief Medical Officer for the Munich games.

Recent Advances in Sports Medicine

Today, researchers continue to investigate the best ways to prevent sports injuries and heal them when they occur while improving overall performance. One recent study examined the impact of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) versus low-intensity training in patients with anxiety disorders. They discovered that while both provide benefits, HIIT participants reported greater improvements in somatic symptoms and mood after 30 days.

Researchers also look into fitness trends to scientifically test their merit. For example, many young athletes swear by nitrate supplementation, but these substances can be dangerous in high doses. Scientists continue their investigation but note that natural supplements, like beet juice, seem to have few severe side effects.

If you love nothing more than to get in the game, it benefits you to follow sports medicine updates. The human body is a fascinating machine, and it’s interesting to learn how to help it function optimally.

Sports Medicine Has a Fascinating History

The modern history of sports medicine may be brief, but its roots extend to humankind’s most ancient past. Use this information as inspiration to get yourself in the game.


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