Types Of Therapist In Sport

There are many types of therapist out there, all calling themselves something different, having completed different training and offering different treatments and services. How do you know which one to visit to meet your requirements? Or maybe you are thinking of training to work in the sports injury field and are not sure which profession to choose?


Athletic Therapist

Athletic therapy is a Canadian profession, governed by the Canadian Athletic Therapist Association (CATA). Certified members have successfully completed a comprehensive theory exam and a subsequent oral/practical exam developed and administered by the certification board of the CATA.

Athletic therapists treat a range of people. Some will work in professional sports teams and others in injury clinics and they people with all musculoskeletal conditions, not only sporting injuries. Athletic therapists assess injuries and treat them using a wide range of techniques, utilising contemporary rehabilitative techniques, therapeutic modalities, soft tissue mobilization, physical reconditioning, and supportive strapping procedures.

They must complete a degree course at a registered institution. They must also complete an internship of at least 1200 hours of practical experience under the supervision of a Certified Athletic Therapist. Once these criteria are met, a certification candidate is qualified to attempt the comprehensive written exam.  The final step is a practical exam covering all components of the athletic therapy scope of practice.

Throughout their career, they must also keep up-to-date their first responder training and complete continuing professional development courses to keep up-to-date with advancements in the field. For more information please visit the CATA website.


Chiropractic treatment focuses particularly on the spine and musculoskeletal system. Chiropractors manipulate vertebrae and the bones and joints around the spine, with the aim of reducing pain and increasing mobility. They may also use other techniques like acupuncture and give advice on exercises that can help ease pain and improve the health of the spine.

Expert interview: Chiropractor Dr. Maria Madge explains what a Chiropractor is, their qualifications and the difference between a Chiropractor and an Osteopath.

Chiropractors are primary health care professionals. They are the third-largest after medical and dentistry, with 10 million visits to chiropractors each year. Chiropractic care is mainly concerned with joints, muscles, and nerves, but particularly with the spine. When the spine doesn’t move as well as it should, pain can be caused. Issues with the spine can also mean the muscles and joints in the whole body don’t move as they should, which can cause local inflammation.

The Chiropractor will try to realign the spine and restore normal function to it. This chiropractic treatment will hopefully take away the aches and pains from affected areas. They apply a chiropractic adjustment, which are movements that manipulate the vertebrae on the spine, and also focus on specific areas to increase the movement of the joints. Chiropractors also practice soft tissue work or massage around certain areas, depending on what the problem is, and deal with trigger points which cause a lot of pain up and down the spine. Needling is also used, which is similar to acupuncture, and this helps with very tight muscles. Chiropractors may also use a piece of kit called an Activator which sends a gentle impulse to the spine to try and increase mobility.

Occupational Therapist

Occupational therapists work in both the UK and the USA. Their role is to assist their patients in activities of daily living, helping them overcome disabilities such as injuries and medical conditions.

An Occupational therapist (OT) assesses and treats physical and psychological disabilities. These disabilities may have been caused by illness, accident or old age. The form of treatment may include activities to prevent disability and enable daily living. Occupational therapists also provide and teach patients how to use adaptive aids which make daily living easier. Examples include magnetic tubes to help when lifting objects, electric can openers and walking aids.

Occupational therapists pass a three-year degree course to gain a BSc (Hons) in Occupational Therapy. Some institutions offer two years accelerated masters degree programmes for those with a first degree in a related subject. Part-time study may be available for those working in the field as OT assistants. This usually takes 4 years. Once qualified, an OT must register with the Health Professions Council and the British Association of Occupational Therapists. (or the American Occupational Therapy Association in the USA).

Occupational therapists mostly work within the NHS in hospitals and other community settings. You may have to travel to the clinic, or the occupational therapist may visit you in your home. Some occupational therapists may also work within an education setting, working with young children, care homes for the elderly or large businesses to help employees continue to work.


According to the General Osteopathic Council “Osteopathy is a way of detecting and treating damaged parts of the body such as muscles, ligaments, nerves, and joints. When the body is balanced and efficient, just like a well-tuned engine, it will function with the minimum of wear and tear, leaving more energy for living.”

Osteopaths are probably best known for their treatment of back pain. However, they treat a variety of conditions including postural problems, repetitive strain injury, pregnancy, and babies. As many sports injuries are muscle and joint-related then Osteopaths can be particularly effective in treating sports injuries. A variety of techniques are used, most predominantly spinal and joint manipulation and massage.

In the UK, the General Osteopathic Council is charged with regulating Osteopathy. It is a criminal offense for someone to call themselves an Osteopath if they are not registered with the General Osteopathic Council. The GOsC regulates, promotes and develops the profession of osteopathy, maintaining a Statutory Register of those entitled to practice osteopathy. Only practitioners meeting the high standards of safety and competency are eligible to join this register. Proof of good health, good character and professional indemnity insurance cover is also a requirement.

Osteopaths will normally do a 4 or 5 year Honours degree course with clinical experience. More information at General Osteopathic Council – the regulating body of Osteopaths in the UK.

Physical Therapist

Physical therapists work in the USA and are the American equivalent of a Physiotherapist. They help restore function, improve mobility, relieve pain, and prevent or limit permanent physical disabilities of patients suffering from injuries or disease. They treat a wide range of patients from athletes to people who have suffered from an accident or illness.

Physical therapists patients include accident victims and individuals with disabling conditions such as low-back pain, arthritis, heart disease, fractures, head injuries, and cerebral palsy as well as sports-related conditions. Some physical therapists treat a wide range of ailments and others specialize for example in sports medicine. Physical therapists use a variety of treatments including therapeutic use of hands, exercise programs, ultrasound, and electrical stimulation. Physical therapists practice in hospitals, clinics, and private offices, or they treat patients in their own homes, or in schools.

A physical therapist has completed an accredited four-to-six-year college program or if educated in a foreign country has met the educational requirements in physical therapy, including studies in biology, basic medical sciences, and clinical experience. In addition, some states require physical therapists to have passed the national physical therapy examination and an examination on the laws and regulations governing the practice of physical therapy.

Physical therapists will often need a diagnosis from a licensed health care professional who is authorized by his or her license to diagnose (i.e. physicians, dentists, podiatrists, chiropractors, etc.). Although a physical therapist may evaluate a patient without a diagnosis, one is required prior to the physical therapist providing any treatment. Once you have a diagnosis, the physical therapist will implement a personalized treatment plan.


A Physiotherapist is the British equivalent of a Physical Therapist and a therapist who helps patients recover from injury and illness. Physiotherapy is a profession which is very popular in the UK, Europe, and Australia. A physiotherapist is a health care professional who specialises in maximising human movement, function, and potential.

They may work with someone after injury, accident or surgery, or may work to prevent injury for instance with sporting clubs or in the workplace. Physiotherapists work in a wide variety of settings: hospital; private clinics; hospices; nursing homes; patients own home; the workplace; sports clubs and gyms.

In July 2005 a law was passed in the United Kingdom protecting the title “physiotherapist” and “physical therapist” restricting its use in the UK to persons who are eligible to register as a physiotherapist with the Health Professions Council. In order to receive a certificate to practice and register with the Health professions council Physiotherapists study for three years to gain a BSc in Physiotherapy. Some universities now also offer an accelerated two-year course to students who hold a previous degree in a relevant subject.

Once registered with the Health professions council Physiotherapists must maintain a portfolio documenting their continuous professional development, undertaking extra courses and study. You can check whether your therapist is registered with the HPC on their web site.

Physiotherapy is available on the NHS. Your family doctor can refer you to physiotherapy. Some areas operate an open access system so you can refer yourself for physiotherapy assessment. If seeking a private physiotherapist look for the letters HPC after their name this indicates that the physiotherapist is registered with the health professions council. All physiotherapists working for the NHS are registered with the health professions council.

Additionally, physiotherapists may have the letters MCSP after their name, this indicates that they are a Member of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, The Chartered Society of Physiotherapists maintains a register of members who offer private treatment.

First of all the physio will undertake a comprehensive assessment of your problem. This will include asking you a lot of detailed questions about the problem such as how it started, what activities make it better or worse, as well as more general questions about your general health and work, hobbies and sporting activities.
Treatment options depend on the problem that you are having but may include exercises to stretch tight structures, strengthen weak ones, improve balance, or change the way you move; hands-on mobilization to move joints; or electrotherapy which is the use of machines such as ultrasound or TENS. Contributed by Jane Hodgson of Physiobench.


A Podiatrist diagnoses and treats abnormalities of the lower limb. They give professional advice on the prevention of foot problems and on proper care of the foot.

Podiatrists may work within a hospital department, private clinic, health centre or GP surgery. Some may visit schools or patients who cannot leave home or are in a nursing home. All Podiatrists in the UK must have a Bachelors Degree from a school of podiatry and must also be registered with the Health Professions Council (HPC).

Sports Massage Therapist

There is both much confusion over what a Sports Masseur is and what one does or can offer. This is due to the fact that there are so many people practicing ‘massage’ and so many practitioners with different skills and levels of experience. A Sports massage is ideal to treat injuries and as well as a preventative treatment dealing with the health of muscle and connective tissue, the range of movement, tone, symmetry, the balance of muscle and quality of posture.

Sports Rehabilitator

A Sports Rehabilitator is an individual who has graduated from a degree-level Sports Rehabilitation course. These are run over 3 or 4 years at the end of which the graduate is entitled to use the initials GSR as well as the standard BSc (or BA) awarded for every degree.

Sports Rehabilitators are governed by their association, The British Association of Sports Rehabilitators and Trainers (BASRaT). Sports Rehabilitators must be members of BASRaT in order to practice and use the professional title GSR. Membership also covers public liability insurance. In order to maintain their membership and insurance, a Sports Rehabilitator must complete a set amount of Continued Professional Development (CPD – attendance at courses and seminars, etc) over every two year period.

Unlike a sports therapist or massage therapist, a Sports Rehabilitator must have a degree from an accepted university (Short courses and other forms of qualification are not acceptable).

Sports Rehabilitators work in the field of sports medicine and have been specifically trained to deal with injuries through every stage, from the initial onset through to late-stage, return to sports rehabilitation. Although they specialise in sports injuries, they also treat everyday and occupational injuries and pain.

They look at the body as a whole when assessing an injury. Assessment usually includes postural and biomechanical assessment, detailed history, muscle strength, and flexibility testing as well as special tests for the injured area.

Techniques which are used in treatment include Sports Massage, Electrotherapy (Ultrasound/Interferential/TENS), taping, muscle stretching techniques (including muscle energy techniques), strengthening, core stability training, proprioception training and return to sport/activity training.

Sports Rehabilitation is a relatively new profession, with the first courses opening in 1994. Due to increasing numbers of graduates and the promise of State Registration looming, Sports Rehabilitators are now working in more settings than ever. You will find Sports Rehabilitators working in sports injury clinics, health clubs and gyms and professional and semi-pro sports teams, especially Rugby Union, due to the support of the RFU.

Sports Therapist

In sport, a Sports Therapist helps injured athletes return to full performance, after injury. Injury treatment varies according to the sport or activity involved. A qualified Sports Therapist advises on prevention of injuries and can examine, assess and treat those that do occur, as well as helping with the rehabilitation process.

At the moment in the UK, Sports Therapy is unregulated, a situation that is currently changing, with new Statutory Regulations being developed. Anyone can call themselves a Sports Therapist, or Sports Masseur, without even having a qualification. Some sports therapists have a diploma and others have a degree. A Sports Therapist differs to a sports massage therapist who generally, are not trained in rehabilitation exercises or electrotherapy and may only have attended a short course.

Sports therapists may be a member of The Society of Sports Therapists or the Sports Therapy Organisation or both. This includes public liability insurance and members are required to complete 10 hours of continued professional development (CPD) per year. This involves attending courses and seminars to keep up to date with advances and new techniques and research.

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