The idea of sports medicine is actually a fairly new concept. Only in the last few decades has this particular medical practice garnered enough mainstream attention to make it a worthwhile career for physicians. By definition, sports medicine is aimed at preventing injury and illness to an individual when they are participating in some type of sports or physical exercise. Doctors that specialize in sports medicine also put a great deal of emphasis on enhancing the fitness and overall health of the larger population through exercise and healthy diet. It was not that long ago that exercise just for the sake of exercising was considered a somewhat ridiculous idea.
Not more than 100 years ago, the population would often work themselves almost to death. The act of scratching out a living required so much physical exertion that the idea of exercising for sport or fitness would have never occurred to most people. In fact exercising was even looked down upon in some circles. That is not to say that humans have not recognized the value of exercise and physical activity for thousands of years. As far back as 2500 BC, the Chinese were actively trying to prevent disease and prolong their lives through the use of exercise.
Ancient Greeks celebrated athletes and Herodicus is sometimes referred to as the first doctor of athletic medicine. Hippocrates spent a great deal of time treating the injuries of athletes and helping them to prepare for competition. During the time of the Roman Empire, a Greek physician by the name of Claudius Galen actually became the primary doctor for the gladiators. He was responsible for some ground breaking discoveries in the field of sports medicine. He noted the way that muscles contracted and observed that the arteries and lungs worked together to provide oxygen to the tissues.
Like most scientific endeavors, sports medicine all but disappeared during the dark ages. During the 1600s, physicians began to concentrate on what we consider today to be a form of sports medicine. Over the next few centuries, physicians began to pay more attention to the benefits that exercise could provide to the human body. During the 20th century the sports medicine specialty really began to take off. Nobel Prize winning physiologist A.V. Hill is considered by some to be the first physiologist to specialize in exercise. As Americans found themselves with more leisure time and disposable income, professional sports and the injuries that go along with them created a demand for doctors.