Sports Rehabilitation Degree and Certificate Program Info

Oct 14, 2019

Prospective athletic trainers may pursue bachelor's or master's degrees, and aspiring physical therapists typically need a professional doctoral degree. Learn more about each of these programs and get job info for the field of sports rehabilitation.

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Essential Information

For programs related to sports rehabilitation, prerequisite courses in healthcare, math and science are common for admission at the undergraduate and graduate level. Applicants may also need to complete some observational hours in either athletic training or physical therapy.

Coursework offered in these programs that relates to sports rehabilitation would include exercise therapy, injury prevention, kinesiology, human movement and physiology. Clinical experiences typically accompany classroom instruction at each level of study. State licensure is typically required for both athletic trainers and physical therapists, and these degree programs can qualify graduates for their respective licensing exams.

Bachelor of Science in Athletic Training

Athletic trainers work with physicians to prevent, diagnose and care for sports-related conditions and injuries. Training programs are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE), and graduates must complete all requirements according to the Board of Certification (BOC). In most states, passing a certifying exam to obtain licensure is required to practice. The American Medical Association recognizes the career as a healthcare profession. Some programs offer teaching and non-teaching tracks for those interested in working within the elementary or secondary school systems.

Most baccalaureate programs in athletic training require a separate application to the program during the sophomore year of college. Some programs allow students to apply during their freshman year and start during their sophomore year. Entrance is often competitive, and the completion of prerequisite courses, prior observational experiences and strong grade point average are all carefully evaluated as part of the admissions process.

Athletic training studies include core coursework in the general humanities and basic sciences, professional coursework and a significant amount of hands-on practicum experience. Common professional courses include nutrition and:

  • Medical conditions in the athlete
  • Injury prevention
  • Fitness evaluation
  • Therapeutic exercise
  • Sport psychology
  • Exercise physiology

Master of Science in Athletic Training

Because it is necessary to graduate from an accredited training program in order to be eligible for board certification, those who have a baccalaureate degree from an alternative program or from an unaccredited program must complete a master's degree. Master's degree programs generally take two years to complete and incorporate research opportunities along with the courses necessary to prepare for the certification exam.

Applicants must have completed a bachelor's degree to enroll in the program. While some schools prefer that the degree be in a related field, many have no specific requirements. However, prerequisite courses are common and may include CPR and first aid, anatomy and physiology, psychology, nutrition and exercise physiology. A satisfactory score on the GRE is also required.

A combination of didactic coursework, research activities and hands-on training generally make up the master's degree program in athletic training. Common areas of study include:

  • Therapeutic exercise
  • Kinesiology
  • Rehabilitation procedures
  • Exercise physiology
  • Exercise nutrition
  • Research methodology

Doctorate of Physical Therapy (DPT)

Physical therapists work with patients of all ages to assist them in recovering from disease and injury. A doctoral program takes approximately three years to complete and is considered the professional standard in the field. Those interested specifically in the field of sports therapy may seek certification as a sports physical therapy specialist.

A bachelor's degree must be completed prior to entering a DPT program of study; a satisfactory score on the GRE is generally required as part of standard admissions criteria. There are several prerequisite courses, including anatomy and physiology, biology, chemistry, statistics and psychology. Generally, at least 20 hours of observational experiences in the field of physical therapy must also be completed in order to obtain acceptance to the program.

Students must complete a mix of didactic classes, lab work and internships as part of the doctoral program curriculum. Generally, courses in the basic sciences make up the first year of training, with clinical training interspersed through the second and third years. Class topics include:

  • Human anatomy
  • Movement science
  • Surface anatomy
  • Neuroscience
  • Physical therapy interventions
  • Applied physiology

Popular Career Options

An athletic trainer has numerous options upon graduation and certification. Positions are commonly found within:

  • Secondary education
  • Professional and collegiate sports
  • Colleges or universities
  • Sports medicine clinics
  • Rehabilitation clinics
  • Fitness centers

Career Outlook and Salary Info

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), athletic trainers are expected to see a 19% employment increase between 2018 and 2028, much faster than average job growth for all occupations. In 2018, the BLS reported that athletic trainers earned a yearly median wage of $47,510.

Similarly, the BLS reports that physical therapists are expected to experience a much faster than average job growth of 22% during the 2018-2028 decade. Such growth was due to an increasing elderly and baby boomer population. The median yearly salary for a physical therapist in May 2018 was $87,930, according to the BLS.

Continuing Education

Athletic trainers must complete continuing medical education in five different domains in order to maintain their certification credentials; these include prevention, clinical evaluation, immediate care, treatment and rehabilitation, administration and professional responsibility. Additionally, some doctoral training programs are available.

The American Physical Therapy Association and the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties administer a certification program for physical therapists seeking a sports physical therapy specialist designation. Eligibility requirements include current licensure, documentation of practice hours and completion of the National Physical Therapist Examination. Upon completion of all the requirements, the physical therapist may use the designation of SCS following his or her name.

In order to embark on a career in sports rehabilitation, students can pursue degrees at the undergraduate or graduate level in athletic training or physical therapy. Throughout their education, they can gain expertise through coursework related to the field of sports rehabilitation.

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