What is Sports Therapy?

Sports Therapy is an aspect of healthcare that is specifically concerned with the prevention of injury and the rehabilitation of the patient back to optimum levels of functional, occupational and sports specific fitness, regardless of age and ability.

It utilises the principles of sport and exercise sciences incorporating physiological and pathological processes to prepare the participant for training, competition and where applicable, work.

Sports therapy and sports medicine are fields that focus on exercise, training and rehabilitation related to athletics. As a sports therapist, you'll work with athletes of all ages. Some of the work that you do will be to help athletes improve their overall performance by performing proper stretching techniques and doing effective exercises. Another facet of your job will be to help individuals recover from injuries, especially common sports-related injuries. As a sports therapist you may work with others in a clinic, work for a school or athletic team or open your own private practice.

What is a Sports Therapist?

Sports Therapists treat not only 'injured athletes', but also deal with many common muscular complaints such as back pain, mobility problems, postural problems and work related conditions.

Sports therapists work with athletes to help them with their overall performance and recovery from injury. Read on to learn more about the field and what degree programs are available, along with employment options and salary potential. Schools offering Kinesiology & Sport Science degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What is a Sports Therapist?

In sport, a Sports Therapist helps injured athletes return to full performance, after injury. Injury treatment varies according to the sport or activity involved. A qualified Sports Therapist advises on prevention of injuries and can examine, assess and treat those that do occur, as well as helping with the rehabilitation process.

At the moment in the UK, Sports Therapy is unregulated, a situation that is currently changing, with new Statutory Regulations being developed. Anyone can call themselves a Sports Therapist, or Sports Masseur, without even having a qualification. Some sports therapists have a diploma and others have a degree. A Sports Therapist differs to a sports massage therapist who generally, are not trained in rehabilitation exercises or electrotherapy and may only have attended a short course.

Sports therapists may be a member of The Society of Sports Therapists or the Sports Therapy Organisation or both. This includes public liability insurance and memebers are required to complete 10 hours of continued professional development (CPD) per year. This involves attending courses and seminars to keep up to date with advances and new techniques and research.

What Techniques do Sports Therapists Use?

Techniques which are often used in treatment include:

  • Sports Massage
  • Electrotherapy (Ultrasound/Interferential/TENS)
  • Taping (Strapping)
  • Muscle stretching techniques (including muscle energy techniques)
  • Muscle strengthening
  • Core stability training
  • Proprioception training

Where do Sports Therapists work?

Sports therapists can be found in sports injury clinics, gyms, health clubs and professional and semi-professional sports clubs.

How to Become a Sports Therapist: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Learn the steps for becoming a sports therapist. Research the various job duties and the education requirements and find out how to start a career in sports therapy.

Should I Become a Sports Therapist?

Also known as athletic trainers, these therapists work with athletes to prevent and treat injuries. Sports therapists might work with amateur or professional athletes of all ages and often need to work outdoors in inclement weather conditions. Those working with a sports team may need to travel and work evenings or weekends.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree minimum; master's degree recommended for advancement
Degree Field Athletic training
License and Certification Required by most states; certification is optional
Key Skills Interpersonal skills, decision-making skills
Salary (2014) $43,370 (Median annual salary for athletic trainers)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Important Facts About This Degree

Common Courses Anatomy and physiology systems of control, personal training, therapeutic exercise
Online Availability Programs with concentrations in sports management are offered
Continuing Education The Sports Certified Specialist designation is available through the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialists.
Prerequisites High school diploma or GED, letter(s) of recommendation, admissions application and entrance essay completion, and sometimes an interview with a school representative

Step 1 - Earn a Bachelor's Degree

The minimum requirement for sports therapists is a bachelor's degree. Students take science and anatomy courses as well as exercise science and biomechanics. They learn to assess athletic injuries and apply therapy techniques. A practicum will likely be required as part of the program. During the program, it is possible for students to work alongside sports physicians and health professionals to work hands-on with athletes. Accredited programs should prepare students to take the Board of Certification exams, which may or may not be required for licensing.

Step 2 - Obtain a License

Almost all states require that athletic trainers have a license. The requirements vary by state, although most states require that individuals pass an exam. In most cases, students have to take Board of Certification exams, which meet requirements for both licensing and professional certification. In other cases, students may be required to take different or additional exams administered by the state. In addition, sports therapists who wish to work with schools may require an additional teaching license.

Step 3 - Become Certified

The Board of Certification, Inc. offers optional certification for sports therapists and athletic trainers. Once students have completed a Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE)-accredited training program, they become eligible to take the exam. Once sports therapists are certified, they must maintain certification in emergency cardiac care, including adult and pediatric CPR and airway obstruction. In addition, they must earn a minimum number of continuing education credits in a given time period.

Step 4 - Earn Continuing Education Credits

In addition to maintaining certification, athletic trainers will likely be required to earn continuing education credits in a set time frame to maintain a valid license. Continuing education credits can be earned by purchasing and reviewing DVDs or webinars as well as attending workshops, seminars or conferences.

Step 5 - Obtain a Master's Degree

It is not uncommon for sports therapists to pursue a master's degree in order to advance in the field. Although some programs are open to anyone, other programs require that sports therapists already be certified and licensed for admission. Students learn advanced therapeutic assessment and therapeutic techniques. Students will likely have to meet a research requirement and pass an exam to graduate from the program. They may also have a chance to choose between a thesis and non-thesis option. It is also possible that students will have an opportunity to complete a practicum or meet a teaching requirement.

What Degrees Can I Earn?

One option for you is to begin by earning an associate's degree, which will generally take two years. You can complete an associate's degree program in several areas related to sports therapy such as exercise science, kinesiology or athletic training. Many of the credits you earn may transfer to a 4-year school, decreasing the time it takes you to earn a bachelor's degree. Earning your bachelor's degree is an important step towards further education, and it increases your chances of finding employment.

After completing a bachelor's degree, you can move on to graduate school and earn either a master's or doctoral degree. Many states require physical therapists to earn graduate degrees in order to become licensed. Graduate programs in such areas as sports medicine, sports therapy, physical therapy or sports injuries could help you meet this requirement. Graduate programs can take anywhere from 2-4 years to complete. Before enrolling, you should make sure your program is accredited by an organization such as the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (www.capteonline.org).

What Can I Do With My Degree?

The degree that you earn determines the job opportunities that are available to you. If you earn an undergraduate degree, such as an associate's or bachelor's degree, one option is to work as an aide or assistant to a physical or sports therapist. Aides and assistants perform tasks such as helping patients with therapeutic exercises or helping to develop exercise plans for athletes. According to a 2015 report from PayScale.com, aides made an annual median salary of $25,302, while assistants made $46,617 (www.payscale.com).

If you earn a graduate degree and complete the proper state licensure procedures, you can find work as a sports or physical therapist. As a sports therapist, you'll be in charge of patient care or developing training programs for athletes. According to the BLS, physical therapists made an annual median salary of $83,940, as of 2014. Your degree may also prepare you for other jobs, such as athletic trainer, researcher, sports nutritionist, strength coach or teacher.