The Mayo Clinic is making a big play to attract ailing athletes and weekend warriors with aching knees to its campus.

The hospital system plans to open a 22,000-square-foot sports medicine facility in Rochester next spring that will double its existing practice.

The center aims to be a sort of high-tech medical playground that will help the injured get back in the game and the healthy hone their skills.

"A lot of people think of Mayo as the last resort," said Dr. Edward Laskowski, co-director of Mayo's Sports Medicine Center. "We want to change that."

Though not directly part of Mayo Clinic's successful bid this year to get taxpayer support for its massive expansion plans, the new facility nonetheless is tied to Mayo's broader strategy of becoming a "destination" — not just for rare and complex diseases, but for exercise-related injuries, as well.

Sports medicine is a fast-growing and highly competitive field among hospitals and free-standing surgery centers, as athletes of all ages and abilities seek out the specialized care needed to stay active.

Outpatient surgery centers owned by doctors are competing for patients with long-standing hospital-based programs, such as those run by Allina Health's Sister Kenny (now Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute) and Fairview Health Services. Twin Cities Orthopedics is testing out a one-price, one-bill option for some knee replacement surgeries. At Tria, patients recover from surgery in a hotel suite.

"It can be a lucrative market," said Steve Parente, a health care economist and professor of finance at the University of Minnesota. "It also has these rub-off effects … where it's not just sports medicine for the very elite. It goes down-market, if you will, to folks with other orthopedic concerns."

Mayo treated about 6,000 patients with sports injuries last year, Laskowski said, and expects to triple that number in five to 10 years after the new center opens. It will take over one floor of the four-story expansion of the Dan Abraham Healthy Living Center already underway.

Mayo declined to say how much it is investing in the new center, but it plans to combine emerging medical technology, such as musculoskeletal ultrasound equipment and regenerative medicine, with video and high-tech monitoring gadgets that can analyze an athlete's movements.

Hockey players will be able to lace up their skates and hop on a treadmill to regain strength or improve their crossovers, stick handling and shooting skills. Wood and artificial turf will be available to simulate different playing surfaces.

An open design will provide enough space for a powerlifter to hoist weights, a golfer to perfect that swing or a pitcher to hurl a ball 60 feet, 6 inches across home plate.

It will be a "high-energy, high-activity environment," Laskowski said.

The center also will work in tandem with other specialties, including nutrition, stress management and "resiliency" techniques to aid recovery and add research to battle the nation's intractable and mounting obesity epidemic.

One risk of investing in a multimillion-dollar facility to draw people from around the globe comes in managing the follow-up.

Most out-of-state patients won't stick around for six to eight weeks of physical therapy that might be needed after surgery, the U's Parente noted, and Mayo might look to telemedicine or its ever-expanding network of affiliation agreements for support.

"This plays into Mayo's broader point of total comprehensive care: You may pay more for the Mayo diagnosis and treatment, but you don't have to come back again," Parente said. "In sports medicine, that's a big, big deal. For people who are athletic and want to remain so throughout their life, finding the right orthopedic surgeon to trust can be pretty important."

Jackie Crosby • 612-673-7335