Physical Therapist Assistant with patient on a mat

How to Become a Sports Physical Therapist Assistant

Learn About Requirements, Certifications, Duties, and Salary Ranges

Physical Therapist Assistant with patient on a mat

If you love sports and want to work in athletics, then you might want to pursue a career as a Sports Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA)! These professionals provide care to individuals who may suffer from sprains or swollen muscles, fractured bones or torn ligaments, and more. There are many injuries that can occur during sports, which means there will always be a need for specialized physical therapy.

Our career guide will teach you all you need to know about becoming a Sports Physical Therapist Assistant. We’ll cover the required schooling, certifications, and what to expect from your work environment. This guide also details how much you could make and how long it usually takes to launch your career as a Sports PTA.

(Click here to see our full list of the top Physical Therapist Assistant jobs.)

Sports Physical Therapist Assistant Definition

What Is a Sports Physical Therapist Assistant?

Sports PTAs use their unique skills to help athletes recuperate from their injuries and perform at the top of their game. These Physical Therapist Assistants help athletes restore their strength, function, and movement. More often than not, Sports PTAs will also provide their clients with pain relief and may even prevent permanent damage.

(Click here to learn how to become a Physical Therapist Assistant.)

Sports Physical Therapist Assistant: Job Description

What Does a Sports Physical Therapist Assistant Do?

In the exciting world of sports medicine, physical therapy can be key to the success and health of athletes. Sports PTAs specialize in helping athletes prevent or recover from their injuries. Under the supervision of physical therapists, Sports Physical Therapist Assistants guide athletes through rehabilitative exercises, general recovery, and preventative measures.

Sports Physical Therapist Assistant: Work Environment

Where Do Sports Physical Therapist Assistants Work?

Although Sports PTAs can work in a number of places, you’ll typically find them in sports-medicine clinics, university athletic departments, and professional sports teams. It might take a lot of work and some luck to get a job with a professional sports program. Don’t let this stop you, though! There are still many opportunities available in the realm of sports physical therapy.

Sports Physical Therapist Assistant Duties

Although job duties can vary depending on your location and employer, the daily tasks of a Sports Physical Therapist Assistant will generally include the following:

  • Performing direct physical therapy services according to the directions of the physical therapist and under the physician’s plan of care.
  • Working with patients to relieve pain, restore function, and increase performance.
  • Directing patients on how to perform both active and passive therapeutic exercises, muscle re-education, functional training, transfer activities, and prosthetic training.
  • Using physical agents as needed, such as heat, cold, electricity, ultrasound, and massage.
  • Documenting all services provided to ensure safety, accuracy, and timely billing of therapy services.
  • Ensuring that patient care follows the physical therapist’s established plan of care, the employer’s guidelines, professional standards, and federal and state guidelines.

Keep in mind that Sports Physical Therapist Assistants may work with clients whose injuries resulted from factors like the below:

  • Accidents
  • Inadequate training methods
  • Ineffective warm-ups
  • Conditioning issues
  • Overuse
  • Fatigue
  • Dehydration

Happy female trainer looking at the camera

Sports PTA Education Requirements & Certifications

What Degree Do You Need to Become a Sports Physical Therapist Assistant?

You know the drill: PTAs must complete an accredited associate-degree program for PTAs and pass the National Physical Therapy Exam. Afterward, some pursue training in orthopedics or sports medicine. Check out the PTA Advanced Proficiency Pathways and the PTA Specialty Certification in Orthopedics.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Sports Physical Therapist Assistant?

Aspiring Sports PTAs can expect the first leg of their journey to take about two years to complete. First, they must graduate from an associate-degree program. While most programs require two years of school, an accelerated program would allow you to earn a PTA degree in as little as 20 months. Then, they must become licensed PTAs. This means they will have graduated from an accredited PTA program and passed the NPTE licensure exam.

Once you have passed your program, you will need to complete several other steps before you seek work as a Sports PTA. This is to ensure that you are equipped with the necessary skills to help a wide range of athletes who may require extra care.

Our guide breaks down what it takes to become a Sports Physical Therapist Assistant:

1. Complete a Physical Therapist Assistant Degree Program

If you’d like to become a PTA in the U.S., you will need to earn an associate degree from a PTA program that’s accredited by CAPTE. Each program will have its own set of admissions requirements. To give you a better idea, the PTA degree program at Unitek College requires a high school diploma or GED, a passing score on the Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS) exam, background checks, drug screenings, and more.

While your PTA education will likely include some general education requirements, most of your program will focus on core classes like anatomy, physical ailments, medical terminology, and patient care. Students also normally learn about kinesiology and equipment operation, not to mention mental health and legal issues.

Remember to ask your instructors about elective courses in athletic physical therapy. Additionally, some programs include specialty services to train you in subjects like the below:

  • ACL surgery rehabilitation
  • Rehabilitation for athletes with disabilities
  • Crutches training
  • Gait evaluations
  • Injury prevention screenings
  • Aquatic therapy
  • Pre-participation sports analysis
  • Taping and bracing education

A physiotherapist helping a patient use an exercise band

2. Pass the National Physical Therapy Exam

In order to obtain your PTA license and start your career, you must pass the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE). This test demonstrates your mastery of the necessary skills to perform PTA tasks. The NPTE is a multiple-choice test with 200 questions. Keep in mind that you’ll have four hours to complete this exam.

If you’re nervous about taking the test, you might want to speak with graduates who have been in this situation. Talk to your teachers and counselors. Consider practice exams, too. Go to the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy website to learn more about these exams. They offer PEAT, or the Practice Exam and Assessment Tool, which can provide you with an idea of what to expect on the exam.

Bonus Tip: Remember that you can only retake the test up to three times in any given 12-month period.

3. Obtain Your PTA License on a State-By-State Basis

After you’ve successfully completed the NPTE, you’ll be eligible to become licensed in the state(s) where you plan to work. Because the NPTE is a national exam, it’s generally easy to transfer your scores to gain licensure in different states. The Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy will be your go-to resource for determining each state’s licensing requirements for PTAs.

Some states have different requirements when it comes to maintaining your PTA license. However, most states will require the completion of ongoing education programs or proof of current employment and relevant work experience.

4.Gain Work Experience and Additional Certifications

The next step is to build your resume and gain work experience. Keep in mind that many employers prefer candidates who have one year or more of experience. Look for physical therapy clinics in fitness or rehabilitation centers, sports facilities, and athletic medicine centers. If you’d like to stand out from other job candidates, you should also obtain certification in basic life support (BLS). Try to go to any local PTA events or contact physical therapy clinics. In other words, look for as many networking opportunities as you can find.

Don’t forget to pursue training in orthopedics or sports medicine. Check out options like the PTA Advanced Proficiency Pathways and the PTA Specialty Certification in Orthopedics. You can also gain expertise by working with a physical therapist that holds a special certification in sports through the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialists (ABPTS).

What Skills Do You Need to Become a Sports Physical Therapist Assistant?

In the role of a Sports PTA, you should do your best to motivate others and help them succeed. Keep in mind that some of your clients may struggle with mental challenges as well as physical ones. This is because they have suffered injuries doing something they love. You can see why great interpersonal skills are essential, not to mention compassionate natures, diligent tendencies, and physical stamina. You will likely need to squat and lift quite often on the job.

Sports Physical Therapist Assistant Salary

How Much Do Sports Physical Therapist Assistants Make?

In the United States, Physical Therapist Assistants earn an average annual salary of about $65,000, which is around $31 per hour. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the top industries for PTAs include home healthcare services, nursing care facilities, hospitals, and offices of various practitioners.

While the BLS doesn’t offer salary information for Sports PTAs, Physical Therapist Assistants usually receive a competitive salary that can increase depending on their specialization, location, and experience.

Why Is Sports a Great Career Path for Physical Therapist Assistants?

It’s common for Sports PTAs to experience satisfaction while helping athletes get back on their feet. These are patients who are passionate and want to push the human body to the limit. More often than not, this kind of enthusiasm is downright infectious. Pursue the path of a sports PTA if you’re a former athlete who would like a career as a Physical Therapist Assistant.

Physiotherapist helping a young woman perform exercises

Start Your Educational Journey as a Sports PTA

Do you love the thought of helping athletes get back on their feet? If so, becoming a Sports PTA could be a wonderful career choice. Physical therapy is a vital service that you can perform in many settings and greatly improve the lives of other people. No matter the cause or the injury, there will always be people who require the services of Sports Physical Therapist Assistants.

If you’re interested in becoming a PTA, you should check out the Physical Therapist Assistant program at Unitek College. Don’t waste time and pursue your education to become a PTA today!