Physical Therapist Assistant with a male patient

How to Become a Sports Physical Therapist Assistant

Educational Requirements, Certifications, Daily Responsibilities, and Salary

Physical Therapist Assistant with a male patient

Have you always loved sports and the idea of working in athletics, but you weren’t quite cut out to be a pro athlete? Becoming a sports physical therapist assistant (PTA) could be the career you’ve been waiting to discover. You’ll get to use your skills to help athletes recover from injuries and perform at the top of their craft and earn a great living at the same time. It’s no surprise we recently featured sports physical therapist assistants as one of the top 8 jobs for PTAs.

This 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.

Are you interested in becoming a PTA, but still considering other types of physical therapy? Explore the other options on our list of the top 8 physical therapist assistant careers.

Sports Physical Therapist Assistant Definition

What Is a Sports Physical Therapist Assistant?

Sports physical therapist assistants are PTAs who specialize in working with athletes to help them prevent and recover from injuries. Sports PTAs work with athletes experiencing specific medical issues, and also administer recovery and preventative treatments. They help athletes withstand intense competitions and manage the day-to-day wear and tear of practices and training sessions.

Sports Physical Therapist Assistant: Job Description

What Does a Sports Physical Therapist Assistant Do?

When athletes are recovering from injuries, sports physical therapist assistants guide them through mobility and strengthening routines as prescribed by a supervising physical therapist. They also help healthy and recovering athletes with important warm-up and recovery steps like stretching, massage, and applying athletic tape or other stabilizing equipment.

Sports Physical Therapist Assistant: Work Environment

Where Do Sports Physical Therapist Assistants Work?

Sports PTAs can find jobs at hospitals or private physical therapy clinics, specialty orthopedic hospitals or clinics, and with schools or even professional sports teams. Many general physical therapy facilities treat amateur athletes, so entry-level PTAs will also have opportunities to gain experience with treating athletic injuries before moving on to more specialized sports PTA work.

Sports Physical Therapist Assistant Duties

Some of the day-to-day responsibilities of sports physical therapist assistants include:

  • Measuring strength and range of motion to monitor patients’ progress during recovery
  • Supervising patients performing mobility or strengthening exercises
  • Performing hands-on therapy like stretching or massage
  • Teaching patients how to continue their recovery progress at home
  • Preparing and organizing exercise and therapeutic equipment

Other physical therapist assistant duties may include light administration work like responding to emails, scheduling appointments, and answering incoming calls.

Sports Physical Therapist Assistant Hours & Schedule

Like most PTAs, sports physical therapist assistants usually work full-time, 40-hour workweeks, though part-time jobs are available at some clinics. Most sports physical therapy assistants have a relatively predictable schedule following standard business hours, though some facilities are open later or on weekends to accommodate more patients. Sports PTAs who work for school athletic departments or professional sports teams may be an exception, and work longer or less predictable hours to accommodate game or travel schedules.

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

The best sports physical therapist assistants are good motivators with a drive to help others succeed. Getting injured while playing a sport you love is a mental challenge as well as a physical one, so sports PTAs who can pick up their patients’ spirits and keep them focused on their long-term recovery are just what any athlete needs to get them through a tough time.

Sports PTAs also need good physical strength and stamina to withstand the frequent squatting, lifting, and bending their job entails.

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

For people who are passionate about helping athletes achieve the height of their performance, becoming a sports PTA will be a fulfilling career choice. Many sports physical therapist assistants are athletes or sports fans themselves. And like any PTA career, you’ll enjoy the rewards of seeing your patients regain their mobility, strength, and confidence.

A young rehabilitation worker in an exam room

Sports Physical Therapist Assistant Schooling, Training, & Certifications

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

To become a sports PTA, you’ll need to complete a physical therapist assistant associate’s degree program from an accredited college or university. Most associate’s degree programs require two full years in school, but with an accelerated degree program, you could earn your PTA degree in as little as 21 months.

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

Just like any other major achievement in life, becoming a sports physical therapist assistant is an accomplishment that’s best broken down into a series of smaller goals. People taking a full course load will be able to earn their PTA degree faster than those who are taking classes part-time.

Our step-by-step guide breaks down the necessary steps to become a sports physical therapist assistant:

1. Enroll in a Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) Degree Program

The first step on the road to becoming a sports physical therapist assistant is enrolling in a PTA program at an accredited college or university. PTA careers are accessible for almost anyone who is willing to study hard and take their education seriously. To qualify for the PTA degree program at Provo College, you’ll need a high school diploma or GED, a passing score on the Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS) exam, and a reliable Internet connection. Some PTA programs may also require completing background checks or drug screenings.

2. Earn Your Physical Therapist Assistant Associate’s Degree

Like any associate’s degree program, your sports physical therapist assistant education will include a few general-education requirements like math, English, science, and psychology. These courses will help you become a better critical thinker and communicator, both important attributes for physical therapist assistants.

The bulk of your PTA degree program will focus on the specific skills and knowledge you need to excel as a sports physical therapist assistant. Through your coursework, you’ll build a deep understanding of the human body and how it moves, and learn how to provide therapy to patients with sports injuries and many other medical conditions. You’ll take courses covering kinesiology and orthopedics that relate directly to sports medicine, and also learn about various diseases and disabilities so you’re prepared to treat athletes with unique needs. You’ll also participate in plenty of hands-on training to teach you how to rehabilitate patients safely and effectively.

The final stage of your physical therapist assistant education involves performing supervised therapy work with actual patients in a clinical setting. This real-world experience is invaluable for building the confidence, knowledge, and skills you’ll need to treat athletes once you’re working as a licensed sports PTA.

When deciding where to go to school for your physical therapist assistant degree, you may want to consider colleges that offer additional benefits like career counseling and job-placement services. Getting your PTA education somewhere that takes a proactive role in helping you land your first job can take much of the stress out of your career search.

3. Pass the National Physical Therapy Exam

Before earning your PTA license and starting your career as a sports physical therapist assistant, you’ll need to pass the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE) to prove you’ve mastered the necessary skills and knowledge to perform your PTA duties. The NPTE is a multiple-choice test with around 200 questions. You’ll have approximately four hours to complete the exam.

If you want to give yourself the best chance to succeed on test day, practice exams can be a big help. Practice exams are available from the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (the same organization that administers the NPTE). The Practice Exam and Assessment Tool—or PEAT for short—will give you an idea of what to expect during the actual exam. It also provides real-time feedback on areas you need to improve.

Not everyone passes the NPTE on their first attempt, including many people who eventually become successful sports PTAs. If you come up short of the required passing score on your first try, don’t beat yourself up. However, be advised that you can only retake the test up to three times in any given 12-month period, so be sure to take your exam preparation seriously.

Group of medical students working together

4. Get Your PTA License on a State-By-State Basis

Once you’ve passed 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 usually 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.

Different states have varying requirements for maintaining your PTA license. However, most states will require occasional completion of ongoing education programs or proof of current employment and relevant work experience.

5. Gain Work Experience and Earn Additional Certifications

Most sports PTAs will start by earning general physical therapy experience, as many of the techniques used for treating non-athletes are also applicable to a career as a sports physical therapist assistant. Sports PTAs who want to stand out from other candidates for highly desirable jobs with sports teams or high-end clinics should seek out advanced certifications in orthopedics, as most athletic injuries deal with the musculoskeletal system.

The American Physical Therapy Association offers some of the most-recognized advanced certifications for PTAs, including a certification in orthopedics. To earn and maintain these advanced certifications, sports physical therapist assistants must complete a few prerequisite courses, and submit documentation of their hours spent working for a physical therapist who specializes in sports medicine. Sports PTAs are also expected to complete ongoing education and training courses to keep their skills at the top of their game—no pun intended!

How Much Does it Cost to Become a Sports Physical Therapist Assistant?

The cost of earning a physical therapist assistant associate’s degree varies significantly between institutions and according to your financial situation. When comparing the cost of college, be sure to ask how much you can expect to spend on lab fees, books, and other materials. Some colleges will include all these as part of a flat-rate pricing structure per credit hour, saving you money in the long run.

When comparing schools to start your sports PTA career, you should inquire about financial aid programs, which can make college significantly more affordable. Financial-aid offices at most colleges can help you fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which determines your eligibility for federal and state grants, plus loans and institutional aid.

Sports Physical Therapist Assistant Salary

How Much Do Sports Physical Therapist Assistants Make?

Physical therapist assistants throughout the United States earn an average annual salary* of around $61,180, which is about $29.42 per hour. Salaries for PTAs among the top 25% of earners start at over $75,000. Physical therapist assistants who earn the top 10% of PTA salaries bring in $80,000 per year or more.

While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t provide salary* data specifically for sports physical therapist assistants, sports PTAs with solid work experience and advanced certifications can expect to be on the higher end of the salary* range. And if you land one of those sports PTA dream jobs with a major college or pro sports team, some of the perks could be pretty outstanding!

Physiotherapist working with elderly patient

Ready to Start Your Career as a Sports Physical Therapist Assistant?

For people who love the idea of helping athletes overcome obstacles and return to peak form, becoming a sports PTA could be an ideal career choice. Injuries will always be a part of sports, and from amateur triathletes to big-ticket stars, all types of athletes need sports PTAs to help them pursue their passions.

Learn more about the physical therapist assistant program at Provo College, and get started on the road to an exciting and fulfilling new PTA career today!