What Is a Sports Physical Therapist?

Evaluating Components of Movement

A sports physical therapist must work to evaluate various components of movement with his patients. Sports injuries can lead to restricted movement. Muscle strains, broken bones and other types of other injuries can bring an athlete to the sidelines. The physical therapist has to evaluate a few different things when designing the rehabilitation plan for any given patient. He must look at strength, range of motion, balance, posture, flexibility, mechanics, coordination, endurance and overall mobility. Various exercises and tests help him accomplish this.

Developing Treatment Programs

After evaluating a patient, a sports physical therapist has to design a treatment program that is appropriate for the injuries the athlete has sustained. Different injuries call for different combinations of therapy. Key components in any rehabilitation plan include education about the cause of the problem, exercise to improve function and full participation on the part of the patient. A sports physical therapist will use a variety of treatments to help a patient. Exercises are key in most cases. Activities are designed to improve range of motion, muscle strength, balance, endurance and coordination. Aside from exercise, a sports physical therapist may treat a patient with massage therapy, traction, heat therapy, water therapy and other special techniques.

Scope of Treatment

Some athletes have more serious injuries than others. It is the job of a sports physical therapist to identify the needs of each patient. Once a treatment program has been designed, the athlete and the therapist meet on a regular basis. For example, a basketball player with a twisted ankle may visit the office of his or her physical trainer three times a week to perform muscle strengthening exercises, work on balance drills, and receive heat therapy for the damaged muscles. Depending on the severity of the injury, the sports therapist will have to determine how long treatment will last and how intense the workouts will be as the patient progresses.


Most sports physical therapists study for a substantial amount of time before they earn their licenses. Education and licensing regulations vary depending on the state and country in which the therapist is studying to get his or her license. The majority of licensed sports therapists study for at least two to three years in an intensive training program to prepare for the job. Most sports physical therapists have both a standard college degree as well as a master's degree in physical therapy. Others get a specialized license to treat athletes after completing a course of study at a trade school.

Places of Employment

Sports therapists work with sports teams at government and private schools. This applies to both primary education and college-level athletics. Other therapists are hired by professional sports teams. In addition, many hospitals have a sports therapist on staff. Sports therapists also go into private practice.

Average Salary

The salary of a sports physical therapist can vary greatly. Those who work for professional sports teams tend to make a lot more, and therapists at major universities also earn substantially more. Therapists who work with less serious athletes often make less. The average salary for a sports physical therapist in America as of April 2009 is $70,000. A sports physical therapist is a highly trained health care professional. This type of therapist is qualified to work with patients who have suffered debilitating injuries from sporting events. Contact sports are not the only activities that lead to serious injury. Other sports like golf, swimming, bowling and all types of extreme sports can also produce major health problems. A sports physical therapist specializes in sports medicine and techniques that will help athletes with the rehabilitation of their injuries. There are a number of different ways that these professionals go about this task.