How to Become a Sports Rehabilitation Therapist

Overview

Individuals who work as a sports rehabilitation therapist focus on the prevention, evaluation, and treatment of sports-related injuries. They may be employed in a clinical setting, such as physical therapy office, where their primary clientele is amateur athletes that have suffered a sports-related injury. Sports rehabilitation therapists may also be employed by a college, university, or sports team to provide services directly to athletes. Sports rehabilitation therapists must have a graduate degree and complete both an internship and a residency requirement in order to qualify for licensure. Once licensed, practicing sports rehabilitation therapists can expect to earn an average of $72,000 per year. With strong growth projected in this field, it is an excellent option for individuals who wish to work with amateur and professional athletes.

Where Does a Sports Rehabilitation Therapist Work?

Many sports rehabilitation therapists are employed by amateur and professional sports teams, in which case their work environment may be a rehab and therapy suite at the site of the team’s training facilities. There are a good number of sports rehabilitation therapists employed by public and private K-12 school districts, as well as colleges and universities, to provide services to student-athletes. However, the work environment for sports rehabilitation therapists is most often in a setting such as a rehabilitation center, a physical therapy office, or in a hospital, where they provide services to community members that have sustained sports-related injuries.

What Does a Sports Rehabilitation Therapist Do?

Sports rehabilitation therapists work with athletes on a number of different levels. They help treat both major and minor injuries. Within this realm of treatment, rehabilitation therapists might engage in activities from physical therapy to massage therapy to acupuncture. They are responsible for devising long and short-term treatment programs that include specific stretches, exercises, and other activities to rehabilitate the injured area.

There is also significant work done in the prevention of injuries. Sports rehabilitation therapists will educate athletes about their muscular and skeletal systems, offering information about common injuries and how to prevent them. Part of the prevention aspect of rehabilitation therapy is developing pre-game and post-game regimens that allow for proper warm-up and cool-down procedures. Rehabilitation therapists may also offer insight into proper nutrition, methods to stay hydrated, and ways to ensure proper rest and sleep.

Related: Sports Physical Therapist Career

Improving athletic performance is another primary duty for sports rehabilitation therapists. In this capacity, they would work with an athlete on a one-on-one basis to assess and evaluate his or her current performance, identify areas of strength and weakness, and devise a plan for improving performance. These plans may involve changes in diet, adding or subtracting certain exercises from workouts, and the addition of psychological services. In this regard, sports rehabilitation therapists would work with other professionals, such as a nutritionist or a sports psychologist, to ensure the client has an appropriate level and scope of treatment.

Sports rehabilitation therapists are also responsible for conducting ongoing research in order to provide the best care for their patients. In addition to putting this research into practice by devising innovative and effective treatments, sports rehabilitation therapists must also educate athletes about the kinds of treatments and preventative measures that are available for particular injuries.

What are the Requirements to Become a Sports Rehabilitation Therapist?

Education

To be a sports rehabilitation therapist, one must first complete a lengthy education that includes undergraduate and graduate degrees. Typical undergraduate programs include biology, anatomy and physiology, sports science, or another closely related field. These four-year programs include general studies that introduce students to the basics of human body systems related to physical performance.

Graduate training usually includes a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program, which lasts for approximately three years after the completion of undergraduate studies. These programs include advanced studies in biomechanics, neuroscience, and pharmacology. Clinical internships are embedded into DPT programs, with students working under the supervision of an experienced physical therapist to put their knowledge and skills into practice on actual patients.

Training

Residency programs are common for sports rehabilitation therapists and occur after completion of the DPT program. Usually a one-year placement, residency allows physical therapists to concentrate on acquiring knowledge and skills in a particular area, such as sports rehabilitation. Fellowship opportunities allow for even deeper specialization for therapists upon the completion of their residency requirement.

Licensing Requirements

All 50 states have specific requirements for licensing of physical therapists, including sports rehabilitation therapists. While state-by-state requirements may vary somewhat in terms of degree requirements, internship hours, or type of supervised practice, all states require applicants to pass the National Physical Therapy Examination. Depending on the state, a criminal background check may also be required before licensure can be obtained. As with many other health-related professionals, sports rehabilitation therapists must undergo continuing education in order to maintain their licensure.

Board Certification by the American Board for Physical Therapy Specialties is an option for sports rehabilitation therapists that want to advance their knowledge and understanding of their professional area. In addition to holding a current state license to practice, applicants for Board Certification must hold a current CPR Certification, certification or licensure as an Emergency Medical Responder or Paramedic, and 2,000 hours of direct contact with patients or completion of a clinical residency.

Necessary Personal Skills

In order to provide the appropriate treatments, sports physical therapists must have a number of skills, including the ability to analyze and solve problems. This involves having excellent listening and deductive reasoning skills in order to take the information presented by the client and determine the possible causes of pain. Furthermore, sports rehabilitation therapists must have the ability to convey information in an understandable manner, much like a teacher, and be able to motivate clients to participate in their rehabilitation activities. Having compassion and empathy for clients are other necessary personal skills, as is having the interpersonal skills to work effectively with a variety of patients.

What is the Salary of a Sports Rehabilitation Therapist?

Average salaries for sports rehabilitation therapists and other physical therapists vary widely across the nation. According to PayScale.com, the average annual salary for a physical therapist is $65,388, although physical therapists with a rehabilitation focus have a yearly wage of $72,000, on average. Surveys of physical therapists reveal that higher pay is found in large cities in the southern and western parts of the country in cities like Los Angeles, Houston, and Phoenix. There, a sports rehabilitation therapist might expect to earn anywhere from 2% to 12% more than the average. Therapists employed in professional athletics can earn significantly more money, usually in the six-figure range, simply because of the level of competition and the budget that pro sports teams have for physical therapy services.

What is the Job Outlook for Sports Rehabilitation Therapists?

The job outlook for physical therapy-related occupations is quite strong. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that the field will experience 36% growth through the first part of the next decade. This is somewhat of a misnomer, however, because much of the growth in the physical therapy sector will be fueled by an aging population that will need therapeutic services in hospitals and residential care facilities. However, it can be assumed that with the continued popularity of sports – and the spate of injuries that come with them – that the demand for sports rehabilitation therapists will be strong as well.

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