Description of specialty

The aim of the specialty can be summarised as seeking to ensure that individuals and populations are able to maintain healthy lifestyles through physical activity.

Sport and exercise medicine (SEM) broadly comprises three separate but related roles:

  • Musculoskeletal medicine
  • Exercise medicine
  • Team care

1.      Musculoskeletal medicine

The medical care of patients with non-inflammatory musculoskeletal (MSK) pathology. SEM physicians are musculoskeletal generalists able to formulate an accurate diagnosis and management plan using expert clinical assessment and an in-depth knowledge of functional rehabilitation. Specialist MSK medicine is carried out by physicians with specialist training and in addition to training in MSK medicine, SEM practitioners are trained in exercise medicine which has an important role in treating many MSK conditions.

2.      Exercise medicine

Exercise medicine is the use of physical activity to prevent and treat disease. Physical inactivity and low levels of cardiorespiratory fitness are an important cause of non-communicable chronic disease. SEM physicians have the necessary expertise to assess patients at an individual or disease-specific level and make recommendations about the role of physical activity and how best to embed it within care pathways – ‘the exercise prescription’. In addition, SEM physicians are able to inform local and national healthcare policy from a wider public health standpoint on the role that physical activity can have in addressing healthcare needs at a population level. The Faculty of Sport and Exercise Medicine UK is committed to encouraging the use of exercise in routine medical care and promoting and improving education for doctors and health professionals in this area. 

3.      Team care

The holistic care of sports enthusiasts of all ages and abilities including professional and elite athletes in a role comparable to that of an occupational physician – the sports or team physician. This role draws on expertise in emergency care, acute and chronic injury assessment, diagnostics, functional rehabilitation, exercise physiology and related sports science disciplines as well as more generalised medical knowledge about problems that can affect athletes.

All three roles require a multidisciplinary approach and SEM practitioners have expertise in working across professional disciplines in a variety of settings including community, secondary and tertiary care as well as in the field of play when providing medical services to sport.

This relatively new specialty was launched in 2005 and SEM departments are still few in number and embryonic in development, although government organisations such as Public Health England and other medical specialties are beginning to see the value SEM can bring to healthcare and are working with the Faculty of Sport and Exercise Medicine UK to deliver exercise medicine to NHS professionals.

The Faculty of Sport and Exercise Medicine UK has further information including resources on the latest news and policies for SEM. The Faculty’s Sport and Exercise Medicine – A Fresh Approach  provides a useful introduction to the specialty for the NHS.