Sports Physical Therapy Degree and Certificate Program Overviews

A graduate degree in sports physical therapy provides students with the skills and knowledge necessary to gain entry into the field of physical therapy. Students learn how to help athletes recuperate after sports trauma.

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Essential Information

A physical therapist who has specialized in sports rehabilitation trains and assists athletes in their recovery from a sports-related injury.

A Doctor of Physical Therapy is generally the recognized standard for practice as a physical therapist. Pre-physical therapy programs are offered at the bachelor's level, and some programs combine a bachelor's and doctorate degree. A Ph.D. is needed to become a licensed physical therapist. All programs require students to complete an internship and residency.


Master of Physical Therapy (M.P.T.)

The Master of Physical Therapy has mostly been phased out in the United States in favor of the Doctorate of Physical Therapy, though a few M.P.T. programs still exist.

In order to specialize in sports physical therapy, a residency program is necessary. Such programs consist of a 1-year practical training program that emphasizes outpatient rehabilitation for those living with sports-related injuries.

No specific degree is specified if course prerequisites are met. Such courses include human physiology, chemistry, psychology, physics and statistics. Students in physical therapy programs participate in a combination of hands-on internships, laboratory work and didactic courses. Core requirements include:

  • Patient assessment
  • Orthopedic management
  • Neurological disorders
  • Geriatric physical therapy
  • Clinical anatomy
  • Sports injuries

Doctorate of Physical Therapy (D.P.T.)

A doctoral degree in the field of physical therapy is the professional standard for licensed physical therapists. The program prepares students to assist patients in their recovery from injury based upon knowledge in biology, kinesiology and the behavioral sciences. Some programs offer combined bachelor's degree and doctoral degree programs, which can shorten the training time required. D.P.T. graduates must also complete a 1-year residency training program in order to specialize in sports injury care.

Admissions requirements for doctorate programs in physical therapy require completion of a baccalaureate degree and a satisfactory score on the GRE. Numerous courses in the basic sciences, such as biology, chemistry, anatomy and physiology, must be completed prior to admission. Additionally, most programs require volunteer or observational experiences in the field.

The physical therapy curriculum is made up of classroom and internship components. Classroom training includes the following topics:

  • Physiology and Anatomy
  • Examination and evaluation
  • Health promotion and wellness
  • Clinical skills training
  • Therapeutic exercises
  • Neurorehabilitation
  • Principles of disease

Career Outlook and Salary Info

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), physical therapists were expected to experience strong employment growth during the 2014-2024 decade, with a projected rate of 34% (www.bls.gov). Demand is expected to grow due to insurance coverage for more services and a rising elderly population. As of May 2015, the BLS reported the median annual salary for a physical therapist was $84,020, with some variations based upon location and type of practice.

Continuing Education

Specialist certification is available through the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties in eight areas. These areas include cardiovascular and pulmonary, clinical electrophysiology, geriatrics, women's health, pediatrics, sports, neurology and orthopedics. In order to be eligible for the certifying examination, physical therapists must be currently licensed and have at least 2,000 hours of practitioner time in the specialty area. Applicants to the sports certifying exam must also have current CPR and first aid certification.

Students interested sports physical therapy should pursue a Doctorate of Physical Therapy with a focus in sports injury care. Graduates will need to complete and internship and residency, in addition to becoming licensed, in order to practice medicine.

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