As a sports therapist you may see a range of sporting injuries, provide treatment, rehabilitation and support, and give advice on prevention

Sports therapists use a range of techniques and modalities to make sure people involved in sport and exercise are training and competing safely.

You'll provide an immediate response when sport and exercise-related injuries occur and will rehabilitate the patient back to full fitness. You'll also provide advice and support to help prevent injuries from happening in the first place.

Patients can be adults or children who are involved in sport or fitness at amateur or professional level, or for general fitness and recreational purposes.

If injuries or health-related issues go beyond your scope of practice, you'll 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.

Responsibilities

As a sports therapist, you'll need to:

  • conduct a fitness level assessment on people involved in sport and exercise, 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 sports people 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 sport and exercise participant can continue safely with the event or activity
  • treat and mobilise injuries to alleviate pain
  • rehabilitate injuries by using manual therapy techniques (such as massage), apparatus and electrotherapy
  • design and monitor rehabilitation programmes appropriate to the injury and/or sport and level
  • decide whether extra treatments are needed and coordinate referrals to other practitioners
  • work alone or with coaches, trainers and/or fitness advisers to implement exercise, conditioning, core stability and injury prevention programmes, so that sports people reach and maintain peak performance
  • liaise with other healthcare professionals in the sports sector and in mainstream medicine.

Salary

  • If you work in a clinic, salaries start at around £17,000. With experience this can rise to in the region of £28,000.
  • If you work privately or with a professional team, you can earn up to around £35,000. These posts are usually open to more experienced candidates. However, jobs are increasingly opening up in professional sport, particularly football where sports therapists are an integral part of the team.
  • If you work as a private therapist in a clinic, you can typically earn £25 to £45 per session. Smaller clubs also offer sessional work to cover training or match days, on average £20 per hour. Some professional clubs offer part-time work, which includes evenings and weekends, with an average rate of £40 per hour.
  • Opportunities are starting to emerge in the NHS for sports therapists to work as rehabilitation therapists, for example. Starting salaries are around £19,000 to £21,000.

Salaries vary depending on a range of factors including your location, experience and type of employer, e.g. a national sports team or private clinic, as well as whether you are employed or self-employed.

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'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. If you work with sports teams, you'll need to be prepared to travel nationally and possibly internationally.
  • 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 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.

Qualifications

Although you don't need a degree to practise as a sports therapist in the UK, many jobs ask for a degree-level qualification.

Degree courses in sports therapy accredited by The Society of Sports Therapists are available at a number of universities. These qualifications enable you to gain membership with the society, which although not essential can aid your career development by showing you have met certain criteria and are able to work at specific levels. Details are available from The Society of Sports Therapists - BSc courses.

If you haven't taken an accredited first degree, or you have a degree in another subject, ideally sport and exercise or similar, you could consider taking an accredited Masters in sports therapy. Full details are available from The Society of Sports Therapists - MSc courses.

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

Skills

You'll need:

  • the ability to motivate and encourage others
  • the capacity to work well with groups, individuals and professional colleagues
  • a flexible and innovative approach to work
  • a positive attitude to problem-solving
  • the ability to work proactively and deliver results
  • excellent communication and interpersonal skills
  • team working skills and the ability to work alone, using your initiative
  • the ability to recognise and manage risk
  • organisation and time management skills
  • a good level of physical fitness
  • self-motivation and confidence
  • sensitivity, especially when the injured patient's skills and confidence are affected.

If you're working freelance or setting up your own clinic, you'll also need skills in business administration, marketing and networking.

A full UK driving licence is often required.

Work experience

You don't necessarily need to be, or have been, an athlete or player, although many in the profession do come from this background.

However, experience in coaching and fitness training is highly recommended as you'll need to 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 s. Even an administrative role, for example as a receptionist in a sports injuries clinic, can add to your knowledge and skills.

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

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

If you're completing a programme of study in sports therapy accredited by The Society of Sports Therapists, you can apply for student membership. You'll receive specialist publications and will be eligible to attend courses, seminars and conferences, as well as other benefits.

Employers

Most sports therapists are either self-employed or have two or more part-time jobs. Alternatively, they could be doing a combination of both options. This means you 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's 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.

Find out more about self-employment.

Look for job vacancies at:

  • Jobs.ac.uk - for academic jobs.
  • The Society of Sports Therapists
  • UK Sport Jobs

Occasionally, sports magazines advertise suitable vacancies, as do employment websites and national professional sporting bodies.

Vacancies may be filled through s or personal recommendation. Networking and involvement in sport at any level is a good way of finding work.

It's also worth making targeted speculative applications. The national governing bodies of individual sorts may have directories of sports clubs you can write to.

Professional development

You need to keep your skills and knowledge up to date throughout your career as new treatments, research and theories in this field are constantly being introduced.

Membership of The Society of Sports Therapists is useful and provides a range of benefits including professional malpractice and public liability insurance. To retain membership of The Society, you'll need to carry out continuing professional development (CPD) each year and keep 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.

You'll usually maintain a general interest in various sports throughout your career as this can provide important new perspectives. However, you may wish to specialise in particular aspects of injuries and techniques, such as strength and conditioning and manual therapy. This can be achieved by attending courses and reading professional journals.

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.

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

Career prospects

The majority of therapists start to build their career using a portfolio approach, often supplementing their income with other part-time work.

From student days onwards, networking by making and retaining s 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're 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.