Sports Medicine Therapist: Salary and Career Facts

Research what it takes to become a sports medicine therapist. Learn about education requirements, job duties, average wages and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Kinesiology & Sport Science degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Sports Medicine Therapist Do?

Sports medicine therapists are physical therapists who specialize in working with injured athletes. They diagnose athletes and develop rehabilitation plans with the goal of full recovery. Initially, they may prescribe the use of a particular medical device, like crutches or a supportive boot. In order to alleviate pain and stimulate recovery processes, physical therapists utilize treatments like massage and ultrasound. They also teach patients exercises that can help them improve their strength and mobility as they come back from their injuries.

The following chart gives you an overview about entering this field.

Degree Required Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT)
Training Required 1-year residency may be required; a fellowship in sports medicine therapy may be preferred by employers
Key Responsibilities Diagnose dysfunction caused by injury and create a plan of treatment; use therapeutic manipulation, exercise and stretching to build flexibility, strength and to heal damaged tissue; teach patient how to perform therapeutic tasks; evaluate patient progress and adapt plan for optimum rehabilitation
Licensure and/or Certification Licensure is required by all states
Job Growth (2014-2024) 34% for all physical therapists*
Average Salary (2015) $85,790 for all physical therapists*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is a Sports Medicine Therapist?

Sports medicine therapists are referred to by other names, such as physical therapist or rehabilitation therapist. Active individuals, both young and old, who develop injuries as a result of sports activity or who play sports often require sports medicine therapy.

As a sports medicine therapist, you may concentrate on patients who have musculoskeletal injuries, particularly those injuries that are most likely to occur in athletic sports. Your particular areas of rehabilitation could focus on the shoulder, elbow, knee or ankle. You may work with patients in strength training, exercise and other techniques designed to facilitate their recovery.

What Training Will I Need?

As a physical or rehabilitation therapist, you would need to attend a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Physical Therapy Education. These physical education programs are primarily offered at the graduate and doctoral levels.

You may study science courses that focus on biology and anatomy, as well as pharmacology and pathology. You may also take behavioral science courses, such as medical screening and therapeutic interventions. After obtaining employment in the field, you may also be required to take continuing education courses in order to keep current with industry advancements.

You can find certification and continuing education programs that specifically focus on sports medicine. In addition to your education, all states require regulation of physical therapy, but the requirements vary by state. Completing an accredited program and passing the National Physical Therapy Examination are usually the minimum requirements.

Where Can I Work?

As a sports medicine therapist, you have a variety of options for your work environment. While hospitals and rehabilitation centers are traditional choices, you may also decide to contract with various physicians' offices to work independently. Some sports medicine therapists even work for schools.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), physical therapists earned an average salary of $85,790 in 2015 ( Employment in this field is expected to increase by 34% from 2014-2024, which the BLS noted might be due to insurance companies paying for individuals to receive more physical therapy services.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

You might also be interested in a job as an exercise physiologist. These professionals design exercise programs for patients who are recovering from chronic diseases in order to help them increase their aerobic capacity, physical strength and range of motion. A bachelor's degree is the minimum educational requirement for this job. If you prefer to work specifically with athletes, you might also be interested in a job as an athletic trainer, which involves diagnosing and treating athletes. Usually, they work within an athletic department at a college, university or high school, but they may also find jobs in doctors' offices or with professional sports teams. You need to have a bachelor's degree in order to work as an athletic trainer.

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