Sports Medicine - Physical Therapist: Education and Career Overview

Physical therapy is a growing career that typically requires graduate study and licensure. Many schools offer doctoral degrees in physical therapy with potential for focus in the field of sports medicine. Sports physical therapists are involved in helping athletes prevent and treat injuries as well as improving performance.

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Education Requirements for a Physical Therapist in Sports Medicine

A degree from an accredited physical therapy program is required to work as a physical therapist in sports medicine. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that only graduate programs are accredited (www.bls.gov). Applicants must have completed a bachelor's degree program to be considered for admission.

The majority of physical therapy programs result in doctorates. Students can complete a Doctor of Physical Therapy program, which includes clinical experience, within three years. In many programs, experiential learning begins in the first year. Some required courses include anatomy, orthopedics and pharmacology. Students also learn about treatments for a variety of conditions, from cardiovascular issues to sports injuries and muscular problems. Some programs may require that students attend at least one summer term.

Residency Programs

Physical therapists can specialize in sports medicine and acquire clinical experience in the field through a residency in sports physical therapy. Residents are practicing physical therapists who wish to expand their competencies in sports medicine. The programs typically last about a year and teach participants to prevent, assess and treat sports injuries. They include mentored clinical practices, and many prepare physical therapists for sports-specialty exams administered by the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties (ABPTS).

Sports Medicine Physical Therapist Career Overview

A physical therapist provides services that help people develop, restore and maintain movement and functional ability. Sports physical therapy involves evaluation, prevention, treatment and rehabilitation. This specialization is also concerned with performance enhancement. A sports physical therapist may spend time teaching preventative techniques to athletes, families, coaches and even other physical therapists. Sports physical therapists work with doctors to develop programs to help athletes manage pain and recuperate from injuries. They also play a role in assessing when someone is ready to return to physical activity.

Professional Certification and Licensure Information

The BLS notes that physical therapists must be licensed and that requirements may vary from state to state. Typical requirements include completion of an accredited degree program and passing the National Physical Therapy Exam.

The American Physical Therapy Association's ABPTS offers specialized certification in sports physical therapy. Applicants need to demonstrate that they have CPR certification and know current first responder protocols. They must also pass an examination in sports physical therapy and have experience in direct care (www.abpts.org).

Salary and Job Outlook

In May 2012, the BLS reported that the annual salary for most physical therapists ranged between $55,620 to $112,020. A physical therapist's earnings may depend on the industry he or she works in. For example, the BLS notes that physical therapists who worked in home healthcare services earned an average of $90,440 annually in May 2012; those who worked in health practitioner's offices earned an average of $79,180 per year in the same period. Between 2010 and 2020, physical therapists were expected to see a 39% employment growth, according to the BLS.

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