As we discussed in our first blog, there are several niches in which a physical therapist can work. One specific niche practice is sports. When you are watching any sporting event, several key people are on the sidelines with the coaching staff and team in case of an injury. These people may include physicians, physicians assistants, athletic trainers, and…yes…physical therapists.
When you search the internet for the difference between an athletic trainer (AT) and a physical therapist (PT), you will run into many debates and opinions. One of the most common threads you will find, however, is that AT’s are educated strictly in how to deal with athletic/orthopedic injuries and are trained in triage, emergency catastrophic injuries, and the assessment of illness. A PT, on the other hand, is required to have at least a Bachelor Degree (with most current programs requiring a doctoral level degree) which covers all aspects of rehabilitation (including cardiovascular, stroke, geriatrics, neurological, in-patient and orthopedics). In most comparisons, you will not find any mention of triage or emergency training mentioned as part of a PT’s qualifications. For a standard entry level physical therapist, this may very well be the case; but there are some PT’s who do have this specialized training. This is where a Sport PT comes into play.
If a PT so chooses, he/she may go through a special certification process in order to become specialized in a particular area. A PT who is a Sports Certified Specialist (SCS) has gone through this process and passed an intensive examination in order to certify that he/she is “highly qualified to care for athletes at any level, from on the sidelines, through rehabilitation and return to play, regardless of the injury, age of the athlete, or skill level” (Smith). In order to receive an SCS, a therapist must meet certain criteria which can be reviewed here.
Some PTs, rather than acquiring their SCS, become certified as athletic trainers in addition to their degree in physical therapy. Overall, the important thing to remember is that a PT is qualified to treat sport related injuries, and those PTs who have an SCS or are trained as ATs have an even higher qualification for treating this specific population. At Advanced Physical Therapy and Fitness, our staff is dual licensed PT/AT. If you have any questions on this topic or any others in which you are interested, feel free to leave any questions, comments, or suggestions. Thank you for reading and stay active.