Sports Physiotherapist

The Job and What's Involved

Sports physiotherapists diagnose and treat sports injuries, help individuals to get better and advise them on how to avoid similar injuries in the future. They work with top level professional sports people as well as people who play sport recreationally.

Working with professional sports people physiotherapists often work as part of a team with sports scientists, coaches and other healthcare professionals. The work may involve:

  • Examining and diagnosing injuries.
  • Identifying the cause of an injury.
  • Devising an individual treatment plan.
  • Agreeing realistic timescales for the sportsperson to return to their sport.
  • Keeping accurate records of their treatment and progress.
  • Discussing the sportsperson's ambitions for the future.

The core skills used by physiotherapists include manual therapy, therapeutic exercise and the application of electrotherapy. Some may also learn skills such as reflexology or acupuncture, so they can offer additional services to patients. The type of treatment depends on the injury and can involve using specialist medical equipment.

Treatments include:

  • Taping.
  • Manipulation.
  • Massage.
  • Heat treatment.
  • Cryotherapy (cooling as a means of treating injuries).
  • Therapeutic exercise.
  • Electrotherapy.
  • Ultrasound.
  • Acupuncture.
  • Hydrotherapy.

Sports physiotherapists often have to deal with people who are in pain and frustrated as a result of their injuries, so they need practical counselling skills together with patience and tact.

Most sports physiotherapists work around 36 hours a week. The hours are irregular and can include early mornings and evenings. Weekend hours are common, especially for those working in a clinic, as appointments are arranged to suit patients who work during the day. Many sports activities also take place at weekends.

The working environment may be in specially-equipped private treatment rooms, exercise areas, swimming or hydrotherapy pools, sports centres, or even on the touchline of a soccer or rugby match in driving rain. They may be called upon to practice their skills in the most challenging environments.

A newly-qualified physiotherapist working in the NHS is paid around £20,200 outside London. Self-employed sports physiotherapists charge around £25-£40 an hour.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Sports physiotherapy is a growing area of work across the UK. Therapists work mainly in health and fitness clubs, private sports injuries clinics, leisure centres or for individual sports teams. A small number work for the NHS.

Jobs are advertised on the websites of both the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) and the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Sports Medicine (ACPSM), as well as specialist sports magazines including the CSP's Physiotherapy Frontline.

Education and Training

To become a sports physiotherapist it is necessary to have a physiotherapy degree approved by the Health Professions Council (HPC) which can provide details of approved courses. Physiotherapy degrees are very intense, lasting three years' full time or four years' part time, including long clinical placements.

Entry requirements vary, but in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, minimum qualifications for a physiotherapy degree are three A levels at grade C or above, usually including a biological science. Applicants should also have at least five GCSE's (A*-C), including maths, English and a spread of science subjects. Entry is competitive and many degrees require relevant work experience.

In Scotland, degree entry is with at least five SCE Highers at grades AABBB, including at least two science subjects.

Alternative qualifications which may be accepted for degree courses include:

  • A BTEC, Higher National or National Diploma in health studies.
  • An appropriate NVQ Level 3.
  • An Open University foundation course in science, Level 2 human biology & health, or Level 2 health & disease.
  • An International Baccalaureate.

All applicants are subject to a criminal records check before starting the course and again when they graduate. The courses are also physically demanding, so applicants are given a full occupational health assessment before being accepted.

There are also other ways to study for a physiotherapy degree:

Accelerated Programmes - graduates with other relevant degrees can apply to join an HPC-approved degree course or, with a first or upper second class honours degree, apply for a two-year full-time accelerated Masters programme.

Part-time Courses - it may be possible to work as an assistant physiotherapist and study for a degree part time.

Cadet Scheme - this two-year course offers clinical experience towards an NVQ Level 3 in health. With appropriate experience and support from an employer it can lead to entry onto a physiotherapy degree.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

After they have graduated, physiotherapists can begin to specialise in treating sports injuries. Their degree also allows them to become a member of the CSP. Most physiotherapists have at least two to three years' experience before working alone in the sporting environment.

All physiotherapists must follow a programme of continuing professional development (CPD) and the ACPSM offers a wide range of relevant courses.

Some go on to study for a Masters degree in sports physiotherapy or sports medicine.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Sports physiotherapists need:

  • Excellent communication skills.
  • The ability to explain clearly to patients how to carry out exercises.
  • To be good with their hands to carry out some treatments.
  • Motivational skills to encourage clients to persevere with treatment and therapy.
  • Patience, tact and empathy, to treat people in pain or frustrated by their injuries.
  • Good interpersonal skills to work with clients and understand their needs.
  • To be able to inspire confidence and trust in clients and colleagues.
  • To be able to work well in a team.
  • To be well organised and able to keep clear, confidential records about patients.

Your Long Term Prospects

There is no set promotional route in this career. It may be possible to move up to senior sports physiotherapist, depending on the size of the employer and whether other sports physiotherapists are employed.

Many sports physiotherapists are self-employed, either working on a freelance basis for one or more private sports injuries clinics, or setting up on their own. Some move into research or, with the right qualifications and experience, into teaching. There may be opportunities to work overseas.

Get Further Information

Association of Chartered Physiotherapists
in Sports Medicine (ACPSM),
5 Edwen House, 12 Holyrood Avenue,
Lodge Moor, Sheffield S10 4NW
Tel: 0114 230 5665

Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP),
14 Bedford Row, London WC1R 4ED
Tel: 020 7306 6666

Health Professions Council (HPC), Park House,
184 Kennington Park Road, London SE11 4BU
Tel: 020 7582 0866

NHS Careers, PO Box 2311, Bristol BS2 2ZX
Tel: 0845 606 0655

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