Sports therapy is fast emerging as a graduate profession, working with sport and exercise participants to prevent and treat injuries

As a sports therapist, you'll work with sport and exercise participants to help prevent injuries, recognise, manage and treat them should they occur, and then rehabilitate the participant back to full fitness.

Using the principles of sport and exercise science, you incorporate physiological and pathological processes to make sure participants are training and competing safely and provide an immediate response when sport and exercise related injuries occur.

If injuries or health-related issues go beyond your scope of practice, you refer the patient to an appropriate healthcare professional.

You can find sports therapy work in sports injury clinics or directly with a sports club or sportsperson, either professional or amateur. Many therapists combine working in this discipline with other sports-related roles. You may also have a range of patients and workplaces, rather than being employed by one organisation.

Responsibilities

As a sports therapist, you'll need to:

  • conduct an assessment of the fitness level of players, athletes or participants and advise on exercises prior to an event or fixture
  • test joints for ease and range of movement, pain and dysfunction
  • mentally and physically prepare players, athletes and participants before a competition and use strapping, taping and massage techniques where necessary
  • provide emergency aid in a sport and exercise environment
  • examine and assess injuries and determine whether the athlete or participant can continue safely with the event or activity
  • treat and mobilise injuries to alleviate pain
  • rehabilitate injuries by using manual therapy techniques, apparatus and electrotherapy
  • design and monitor rehabilitation programmes appropriate to the injury and/or sport and level
  • decide whether athletes, players or participants need extra treatments and coordinate referrals to other practitioners
  • advise players or athletes on diet and nutrition (if or when you are appropriately trained)
  • work alone or with coaches, trainers and/or fitness advisers to implement exercise, conditioning, core stability and injury prevention programmes, so that athletes, players or participants reach and maintain peak performance
  • liaise with other healthcare professionals in the sports sector and in mainstream medicine.

Salary

  • Salaries if you work in a clinic start at £17,000. With experience this can rise to £28,000.
  • If you work privately or with a professional team, you can earn up to £35,000. These posts are usually open to more experienced candidates.
  • If you work as a private therapist in a clinic, you can earn £25 to £45 per session.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

You'll usually work around 37 hours a week, although the hours are often irregular and evening and weekend work is common.

If you work with a sports team, you need to be available for weekend fixtures and seven-days-a week during the season.

What to expect

  • As a sports therapist, you're usually part of a wider team of trainers, managers and doctors.
  • You may have a portfolio career, involving part-time work in several clinics and also with multiple amateur or professional sports clubs. Other typical part-time jobs include teaching, coaching and personal training.
  • You may affiliate yourself to one or more gyms, which may recommend you to members so that you develop a pool of private patients/clients.
  • You'll often work in a treatment room with specialist equipment. However, the job can involve spending time outside in all weathers during matches and training.
  • Jobs are available throughout the UK.
  • Dress code is casual, often sportswear, and needs to be something that allows good mobility enabling you to provide relevant treatment. A professional, presentable appearance is needed.
  • The job can be stressful, particularly when dealing with the expectations of athletes, their families, managers and coaches.
  • If you work with sports teams, you'll need to be prepared to travel nationally and possibly internationally.

Qualifications

While you don't need a degree or postgraduate qualification to practise as a sports therapist in the UK, they are required in many jobs. Courses in sports therapy, which are accredited by The Society of Sports Therapists are available.

These qualifications enable you to gain insured membership with the society, which can aid your career by showing you have met certain criteria and are able to work at specific levels.

The Society of Sports Therapists currently collaborates with around 25 universities in the UK that offer the BSc Sports Therapy degree. Details are available from The Society of Sports Therapists - BSc courses.

Sports therapy is fast emerging as a graduate profession and the entry criteria for membership to The Society of Sports Therapists is graduate status from an accredited university only.

If you haven't taken an accredited first degree or you have a degree in another subject, you could consider taking a Masters in sports therapy. There are currently four accredited MSc programmes available from:

  • Birmingham City University
  • Leeds Beckett University
  • London Metropolitan University
  • University of Gloucestershire.

Full details of the courses are available at The Society of Sports Therapists - MSc courses.

There are a small number of other courses that may qualify you for membership with The Society of Sports Therapists but you should check with the course provider.

Search for postgraduate courses in sports therapy.

Currently, if you have a sports therapy degree from a non-accredited university you can still apply for membership with The Society, but will need to prove that you have your own medical malpractice insurance. With further experience and having completed a certain level of professional development you will be able to apply for insured status membership, where you will be covered under The Society's insurance scheme.

It is also a requirement of The Society of Sports Therapists that you have a valid and assessed first aid certificate and you must maintain this to keep your membership.

At present, sports therapy is not a regulated profession but recommendations have been put forward through the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC) to make sports therapist a legally protected title. This would mean only practitioners with an approved qualification in sports therapy would be eligible to register and call themselves sports therapists.

Skills

You will need to show:

  • the ability to motivate and encourage others
  • the capacity to work well with groups, individuals and professional colleagues
  • a flexible approach to work
  • a positive attitude to problem-solving
  • excellent communication and interpersonal skills
  • the ability to recognise and manage risk
  • physical fitness
  • sensitivity, especially when the injured patient's skills and confidence are affected.

Work experience

It is not necessary for you to be or have been an athlete or player, though many in the profession do come from this background. Additional experience in coaching and fitness training is highly recommended though, as therapists must be aware of what different sporting disciplines entail in order to provide suitable treatment.

Look for vacation, weekend and evening work, which will add to your CV and network of contacts. Even an administrative role, for example as a receptionist in a sports injuries clinic, can add to your knowledge and marketability.

You will need to network and develop contacts in order to build a reputation and raise your profile. This might be through:

  • personal involvement in sport, e.g. playing or coaching
  • getting as much work experience as possible with sports clubs and clinics
  • getting involved with community sports organisations.

If you are completing a programme of study in sports therapy, you may also want to get student membership of The Society of Sports Therapists. You will receive specialist publications and will be eligible to attend courses, seminars and conferences.

Employers

Most sports therapists are either self-employed, have two or more part-time jobs, or combine the two options, and so could be working for several different types of employer at the same time.

Opportunities exist in:

  • amateur sports clubs and teams (at national, county or local level, usually on a part-time or freelance basis)
  • professional sports clubs or teams who employ a full or part-time sports therapist or sports masseur
  • sports injury clinics, either on a part-time or full-time contract or a freelance basis
  • private health clinics, where a range of practitioners offer diverse treatments such as podiatry, osteopathy and reiki (this work would usually be part time or ad-hoc)
  • health and fitness clubs and gyms
  • sports and leisure centres (local authority and private sector)
  • sports development
  • sports science support
  • research
  • further and higher education.

It is also possible to set up and run a sports injury clinic and offer sports massage and sports injury treatment sessions locally, e.g. at sports centres, hotels and gyms.

With experience it may be possible to offer a consultancy service, e.g. for TV and film productions.

The level and content of your qualifications will influence the types of organisation for which you work, as some employers specify particular qualifications and specialist knowledge.

Look for job vacancies at:

Occasionally, sports magazines advertise suitable vacancies, as do employment websites and national professional sporting bodies. Keep an eye on all relevant journals and websites, as it is worth making speculative applications.

Jobs are not advertised very often and many vacancies are filled through contacts or personal recommendation. Networking and involvement in sport at any level is a good way of finding work.

Several of the websites of national sports bodies and sports institutes provide lists of links to the national governing bodies of individual sports. These often have directories of sports clubs, which may be useful for speculative applications.

Many sports therapists operate on a freelance basis, so find out more about self-employment.

Professional development

New treatments, research and theories in this field are constantly being introduced and so you need to continually update and develop your skills and knowledge.

If you are a member of The Society of Sports Therapists you will be required to carry out continuing professional development (CPD) during each year of membership and to maintain a CPD portfolio, which can be requested by The Society at any time.

CPD activities can include:

  • attending conferences and exhibitions
  • completing short courses, workshops and seminars
  • reading and researching relevant articles, journals and scientific papers
  • reflective practice
  • taking higher qualifications in sports therapy.

For more information see The Society of Sports Therapists - CPD.

You may also wish to specialise in particular aspects of injuries and techniques, such as spinal mobility. This can be achieved by attending courses and reading professional journals.

It is usual for you to maintain a general interest in various sports, since this can provide important new perspectives.

If you are a self-employed sports therapist, you will have to meet your own training costs and attend training in your own time.

The opportunities available to you will depend on the level at which you entered the career. If you have a sports therapy degree, you could decide to go on to a part-time Masters course while you work. Improving and building on qualifications enables you to offer a wider range of treatments and can lead to more employment options.

Career prospects

As a newly qualified sports therapist it is unlikely you will start in a full-time job; the majority of therapists build up their work using a portfolio approach, often supplementing their income with another part-time or full-time job.

From student days onwards, networking by making and retaining contacts within sport, sports therapy and the wider fields of healthcare and complementary therapies is important for career development.

Many opportunities are not advertised and sports therapists often find work through personal recommendation or word of mouth.

Voluntary roles can lead to paid employment, and part-time or temporary posts can turn into full-time work.

You might find additional work on a part-time basis with members of local sports clubs and teams, as well as with individual athletes.

A full-time job with a sports club or team could be an option after a few years' experience, perhaps with supervisory responsibility for an assistant. It may take several years before you are working at 'elite' level.

As well as working as a sports therapist for a club or team, or in private practice, some sports therapists choose to move into a related area of work, such as fitness consulting, personal training or health promotion.

Another option might be to move into lecturing in further or higher education or to move into teaching.

The level and content of therapists' qualifications often influence their progression and their reputation.