Sports have been around for thousands of years and so has the practice of sports medicine, a branch of medicine focusing on the prevention and treatment of injuries related to exercise and sports. Though many professional sports teams have had physicians on staff for years, sport and exercise medicine did not become a distinct segment of health care until the late twentieth century. However, it has been practiced in some manner since early civilization.
The Beginnings of Sports Medicine
The Atharva-Veda method practiced by the Hindus is the first recorded use of exercise for treatment of an athletic injury. The Chinese book of Kung Fu, created in approximately 1000 BC, also mentions physical fitness treatment. It was not until the fifth century BC that we saw mention of therapeutic exercise in the western world. The practice was associated with Herodicus, believed to be a teacher of Hippocrates, who is considered the Father of Medicine. Hippocrates himself also recommended exercise to treat disease.
The Practice Becomes a Fixture
Trainers, who also served as coaches, became fixtures by the fifth century BC. The first athletic training textbook was written in approximately 444 BC by Iccus of Tarentum, himself a former Pentathlon champion. The Romans continued this practice, releasing several training manuals over the next 700 years. Milo of Croton was arguably one of the most famous trainers of the time and the first recorded progressive resistance exercise, lifting a bull on the day it was born, is attributed to him.
Rivalries between trainers and doctors relegated physicians to a treatment role until the second century AD, when the role of team physician was first noted. Pontifex Maximus appointed Claudius Galen of Pergamum and Rome as physician for the gladiators in Pergamum. Claudius published his treatments and findings and went on to become physician for the famous emperor Marcus Aurelius. When the Roman Empire fell, additional learning was restricted in the western world. The Byzantine Empire and Islamic culture preserved the heritage for many years.
Dr. Edward Hitchcock brought sports medicine to America when he became the first physical education and hygiene instructor at Amherst College in 1854. He is considered the first sports medical physician and team physician in the United States. Other early practitioners included Drs. Edward Nichols, Mal Stevens, and Augustus Thorndike, who published the first general text of the practice in this country. Today, physicians utilize chiropractic and other advanced treatments for health care of physical activity.