Sports Therapist Degree Program Overviews

Oct 14, 2019

Though degrees specifically in sports therapy are not commonly available, bachelor's or master's degree programs in athletic training can prepare students for work in sports medicine clinics, in school athletic departments, with private sports teams and in the military.

Essential Information

Sports therapy is a field of health care that deals with preventing injuries, managing physical stress and aiding rehabilitation after athletic injuries. These programs encompass nutrition, kinesiology and human physiology coursework, as well as hands-on clinical training. Qualified athletic trainers can pursue professional certification or licensure by passing a board-administered examination.

Those who want to advance can earn a Master of Science in Sports Medicine and a Ph.D. in Kinesiology. For masters programs, students may need a degree from a CAATE-accredited athletic training education program. For Ph.D. programs, students will need an undergraduate or graduate degree, depending on the program.

Ph.D. programs typically take 4 years to complete. Students undergo hands-on clinical training, a dissertation, and a practicum or internship for doctoral programs.


Bachelor of Science in Athletic Training

A Bachelor of Science in Athletic Training prepares students for entry-level positions. Bachelor's programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE) prepare students for professional entry-level certification from the National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA). Hands-on clinical training is required and can take place in a variety of settings, including sports clinics, hospitals or physicians' offices. In sports therapy clinics, student athletic trainers learn specific therapies to aid athletic injuries, such as taping and pool therapy. There are no prerequisites above a college's regular admissions requirements to enroll in an undergraduate athletic training program. Students who want to enter into a career in sports therapy and have earned a bachelor's degree in another subject, may choose to earn a second undergraduate degree in athletic training or to enroll in an entry-level Master of Science in Athletic Training (MAT) program. An accredited MAT program provides the preparatory coursework required for NATA certification. Students learn injury prevention and post-injury rehabilitation therapies by studying body functions, anatomy, muscle function and training techniques. Athletic training coursework includes biostatistics, clinical pathology, and kinesiology. Other courses that might be included:

  • Sports physiology
  • Musculoskeletal fitness
  • Nutrition
  • Sport psychology

Master of Science in Sports Medicine

A graduate sports medicine degree program builds on a bachelor's degree in athletic training and covers therapeutic techniques to help the body heal from sports injuries. Students learn to work with patients through hands-on clinical hours and lab work. Additionally, students learn about patient motivations and goals through courses in sports culture and psychology. Some schools require that applicants have an undergraduate degree from CAATE-accredited athletic training education program. Master's degree candidates in sports medicine continue with academic studies of how the human body functions and the nature of sports injuries. Coursework includes:

  • Biomechanics
  • Human Physiology
  • Manual therapy techniques
  • Musculoskeletal injury
  • Pharmacology

Ph.D./Doctoral Degrees in Kinesiology

Doctoral and Ph.D. degrees in kinesiology, the study of human movement, incorporate sports medicine and athletic training concepts to prepare graduates for academic, research and leadership careers. Doctoral programs in kinesiology often offer an athletic training or sports medicine tracks. Programs are full-time, research intensive and typically take four years to complete. Students entering a Ph.D. in Kinesiology program without an undergraduate or graduate degree in a related subject may be required to complete additional graduate coursework in subjects such as biomechanics, physiology and athletic training. Some schools may give admissions preference to applicants who are licensed physical therapists or certified athletic trainers. Doctoral students take courses, complete a dissertation and complete a practicum or internship. Course subjects may include controlling athletic injuries, brain injury prevention, and nutrition. Other courses that might be included:

  • Cardiopulmonary physiology
  • Clinical biomechanics
  • Muscle rehabilitation
  • Physical fitness and human health

Popular Career Options

Certified athletic trainers work in health care facilities, such as clinics or emergency rooms, schools and other places where athletic activities take place. Examples of entry-level work include:

  • Assistant athletic trainer
  • School athletic trainer
  • Sports therapy assistant
  • Strength and conditioning coaches

Seventy percent of all athletic trainers hold a master's degree, according to 2011 data from the NATA. With an advanced degree, athletic trainers and can work as:

  • Principal investigators
  • College professors
  • Professional sports athletic trainers
  • Rehabilitation specialists
  • Sports medicine specialists

Employment Outlook

According to the BLS, employment in the athletic training field was projected to experience a 19% increase from 2018-2028. This increase was well above the projected average job growth, owing in part to the high demand for preventative care and the desire to lower health care costs. The May 2018 BLS data showed that the median annual wage for athletic trainers was $47,510 at that time.

Continuing Education and Certification Options

The Board of Certification (BOC) administers the Certified Athletic Trainer exam for the NATA. Eligibility to sit for the BOC exam includes completion of a CAATE-accredited athletic training education program. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) as of 2015, certification and licensure was required by most states. The BOC exam also qualifies individuals for licensure.

Maintenance of NATA certification requires that certified athletic trainers report continuing education credits earned from classroom work or professional development every three years. In addition, certified athletic trainers must annually demonstrate current certification in emergency cardiac care.

There are several options for students interested in the field of sports therapy; they may pursue degrees in athletic training, sports medicine, or kinesiology. Students often tailor their studies and career to either research or hands-on field work.

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