A Guide on How to Become a Sports Physical Therapist

Physical therapists can develop a specialty in treating athletes, in which case they can embark on careers as sports physical therapists. These professionals have the challenge of providing diagnoses for individual athletes, coming up with customized treatment plans for their rehabilitation, and assessing ongoing progress. While injuries are always setbacks in sports, a sports physical therapy career is your opportunity to help accelerate athletic recovery.

Those interested in sports physical therapy should be well-prepared to physically assist patients as needed. While becoming a sports physical therapist is not easy, the steps you need to take to make it happen are straightforward.

How Much Does A Sports Physical Therapist Make?

According to Salary.com, the average median income for sports physical therapists in the United States is $81,313. The salary typically ranges from $75,215 to $87,861. If you’re just starting in the profession, it’s possible to receive a bit less pay. However, education, experience, skills, training, and certifications can all be contributing factors to your salary – and success. 

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7 Steps to Becoming A Sports Physical Therapist (PT)

  1. Complete a bachelor’s degree program.

To become a physical therapist, the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) mandates that you meet certain requirements. Sports physical therapy schooling should show your understanding of the profession and demonstrate your knowledge of sports-specific concerns. 

The first academic step to becoming a sports physical therapist is completing a bachelor’s program in a relevant field, such as athletic training or exercise science.

  1. Get training.

If you are interested in becoming a sports physical therapist, the most fundamental aspect is training, both in academic and healthcare settings. Before you are granted admission to many physical therapy graduate programs, you may need to complete work or volunteer. 

A school may have specific requirements related to experience in different environments, or there may just be a general minimum number of logged hours. Clinics, hospitals, and nursing homes are good places to get that general experience, especially when they have a rehabilitative focus. 

Before applying to graduate school, you may want to get specialized training too. That would mean working specifically for a sports therapy clinic. This experience will make you more attractive as an academic applicant and give you a better sense of the day-to-day life of a PT.

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  1. Complete a doctorate.

The true academic gateway to a career as a sports physical therapist is a doctor of physical therapy degree, also called a DPT. Developed to meet APTA standards, these programs give you clinical and classroom learning — but start with a general course introducing the subject. Typically three years long, these degree programs offer cardiopulmonary, neurological, and musculoskeletal systems courses.They also teach patient care through conscientious evaluation, examination, and integration.

Earning a doctor of physical therapy degree often involves operating full-time within a clinic. As you get more experience in these environments with treatment, decision-making, and examination, you develop an increasingly better sense of how physical therapy fits within an overall healthcare model. Plus, you learn how a physical therapist has social and psychological functions.

  1. Get licenced

With sports physical therapy schooling complete, you still need licensing and certification. The only accreditation body for physical therapists recognized by the Council for Higher Education and the US Department of Education is the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). To be approved by CAPTE, the APTA’s accrediting agency, programs must require you to serve as a resident under the supervision of an experienced physical therapist so that you can gain in-person, hands-on experience.

When people want to know how to become a sports physical therapist, the answer is similar regardless of the state. No matter the state where you work, you must be licensed to practice sports physical therapy. 

What you need to do to get a license will be different depending on the state. For instance, you may or may not need to complete continuing education training to keep your license valid. Despite state-by-state variation for licensure, you typically need to do two things: 

  1. Show proof that you have graduated from a program that is CAPTE-accredited. 
  2. Take and pass the National Physical Therapy Examination. 

Check the specific licensing requirements in the state where you want to practice. Also, find out the expectations for renewing it.

  1. Get certified.

You must be certified as an emergency medical technician (EMT) to complete a sports therapy program. It can also be a great idea to seek a sports specialty certification from the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties (ABPTS).

  1. Complete a residency.

Your final step before hitting the job market for sports physical therapist positions is completing a one-year residency.

  1. Last but not least, land the job.

The 7th and all-important step in scoring an exciting, fulfilling sports physical therapy career is making connections. Regardless of your resume, getting your dream job in sports can rely heavily on who you know. At JobsInSports.com, we offer a community of nearly 14,000 sports professionals – The Network to help you win your career. Join for free today.