Sports Medicine Degree Programs

What is Sports Medicine?

Sports medicine is a branch of healthcare devoted to the application of medical knowledge and expertise to the prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and management of injuries related to participation in sports, exercise, and other physical and recreational activities. Professionals who work in sports medicine may provide healthcare services to men and women who participate in athletic pursuits of all kinds. The practice of sports medicine encompasses a variety of allied health professions and areas of medical expertise. Allied health professionals who work in the field of sports medicine include fitness trainers, rehabilitative therapists, exercise physiologists, and sports psychologists.


Those who engage in sports medicine may usually choose one of two career tracks or focuses:  the improvement of fitness and enhancement of performance, or the prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and management of injuries.  Some healthcare professionals who work in the field of sports medicine specialize in helping athletes increase their fitness and performance

In addition to attending to acute and chronic injuries and helping athletes rehabilitate from and manage such injuries, allied health professionals who work in sports medicine counsel athletes on matters such as diet and exercise regimens, as well as other factors that impact athletic performance, including cardiopulmonary function and psychological issues relating to competition and performance anxiety.  Sports medicine practitioners are also called upon to educate athletes regarding the effects of steroids and other performance enhancing substances.  Their work sometimes requires them to manage the impact of controlled substances on athletes who have taken them in an effort to improve their performance or handle the pressures of competition and other psychological stressors.

What injuries do rehabilitative therapists and other sports medicine professionals treat?

Much of the work of those who practice sports medicine involves the treatment of various common sports injuries and conditions related to physical exertion.  These injuries and conditions can range from the mild, such as muscle cramps, to the more serious, such as concussions.  Muscle cramps can result from strain or overuse of the muscles and can cause severe pain brought on by muscle spasms that interfere with performance and recovery from injury.


Concussions, which result from the impact of the brain against the skull, are a form of head injury that usually do not result in lasting damage but can be serious if not treated properly.  Many athletes are vulnerable to such injuries as a result of falls or impact with other players or sports equipment during games or competition. 

Athletes are especially prone to soft tissue injuries, and rehabilitative therapists and other sports medicine practitioners are specially trained to prevent, treat, and care for this type of injury. Soft tissue injuries include strains, sprains, and ligament tears.  Sprains and strains that occur frequently in athletes include ligaments of the ankle and of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), a ligament that helps stabilize the knee. 

Other common sports injuries include those sustained as a result of repetitive stress and overuse including shin splints and inflammation of the tendons.  On occasion, accidents, including falls and collisions, can occur resulting in bruises, cuts, and bone fractures.  In extreme cases, sports medicine practitioners may be called upon to treat traumatic injuries. 

Rehabilitative therapists can treat minor injuries with ice, compression, elevation, or rest.  More serious injuries may require the attention of a sports physician or other healthcare practitioner.  Injuries sustained during the course of athletic practice or competition, even relatively minor ones, can have psychological effects on an athlete, so the services of a sports psychologist may be needed during recovery and rehabilitation.


What is the history of sports medicine?

The study of sports medicine has its roots in venerable ancient cultures dating back thousands of years.  In 2500 B.C, practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine were exploring physical exercise as a means of preventing illness and prolonging the human lifespan.  In ancient Greece, the site of the first Olympic games in history, the physician, Herodicus was known as a teacher of “athletic medicine” and is still considered the father of sports medicine.  Physical activity occupied a place of prominence in ancient Greek culture, and athletics were considered not only a form of entertainment but also a means of education and self-improvement.  Greek physicians, including Hippocrates, widely considered the first real doctor in history and the source of the now famous Hippocratic oath, devoted significant time to treating sports-related injuries and preparing athletes for competitive performance.  The science of sports medicine also thrived during the days of the Roman Empire, when gladiatorial sports served as a popular form of entertainment.  Perhaps the first team physician in human history, Clautius Galen served as the on-call medical expert and rehabilitative therapist for the Roman Gladiators.  Galen’s research into muscle tissue and his advanced insights into their function helped him advise the gladiators on how to maximize their performance and develop exercises for purposes of performance enhancement and rehabilitation therapy.  Unfortunately, the importance of athletics and physical exercise in society declined during the Dark and Middle Ages.

It wasn’t until the modern era that interest in physical activity as a means of improving health and fitness was revived and contemporary sports medicine schools came into existence.  An English physiologist designed the first treadmill in the nineteenth century. A forerunner to sports medicine emerged in Scandinavia in the form of the field of gymnastics, which aimed to improve physical and mental performance through exercise.  The fields of muscle physiology and exercise physiology emerged in the United States in the first decades of the twentieth century.  The study of the effects of exercise and exertion on muscles and the body gained new legitimacy when an English physiologist named A.V. Hill earned the Nobel Prize for his research in this field.  The first lab devoted to human physiology in America, the Harvard Fatigue Lab, was opened at Harvard University in 1927.  One of the founders of this lab went on to found the American College of Sports Medicine in 1954.  As the decades progressed, research into human physiology and the effects of physical exertion was taken up by the U.S. military and by reputable scientists.  Interest in exercise physiology and the mechanics of the human body grew as exercise fads, including aerobics, began to hit mainstream American society.


However, the practice of sports medicine and the emergence of the concept of rehabilitative therapy as an allied healthcare profession are relatively new phenomena.  It was not until 1990 that rehabilitative therapy gained recognition as an allied healthcare profession by the American Medical Association.  The growing legitimacy of the field is due largely to the increasingly central role that sports and physical activity are taking in the lives not just of professional athletes, but also in the lives of amateur athletes, including schoolchildren, and individuals who engage in exercise and fitness regimens in an effort to enhance and maintain physical and psychological health.  As exercise and athletics have become a part of everyday life, there has been increased awareness of the fact that athletes have special healthcare needs and that exercise and fitness goals and our methods of achieving them raise unique concerns for healthcare practitioners.

Salaries for Practitioners of Sports Medicine

How much money do rehabilitative therapists make?

Salaries for those entering or already working in sports medicine can vary greatly. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the mean, or average, wage in the field is $45,730 as of May 2014. However, pay can be affected by a number of factors including location, type of employer and work setting, level of experience, educational credentials and level of responsibility. That's why the BLS also reports the average earnings for the lowest and highest 10 percent of professionals working in the field to be, respectively, $27,610 and $67,060 as of May 2014.

However, those are the wages listed for fitness trainers. Sports medicine and rehabilitative therapy can also fall into a vast number of other occupations, including physical therapist, physical therapist aide, physical therapist assistant and exercise physiologist, for which the mean annual wages, as of May 2014, were $83,940, $26,660, $54,330 and $49,040, respectively, according to the BLS.

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Is this profession in high demand?

The BLS reports that job opportunities for athletic trainers and exercise physiologists are expected to grow by 19 percent from 2012 to 2022. This is growth that is faster than average, compared to all occupations, and could lead to 5,400 new positions opening up during this time across the country. Part of the increase in demand is expected to come from youth leagues, colleges and universities that can use athletic trainers to better prepare athletes for activities and prevent injuries.

Athletic trainers can also be important on the field since they are often among the first to respond if an injury occurs. They should be knowledgeable about the symptoms of a concussion as well as be able to immediately assist with other common athletic injuries. Other factors driving demand include the middle-aged and elderly who are becoming more active and may need help in staying mobile, recovering from injuries or strengthening and improving their overall condition. Professionals from athletic trainers to physical therapists can help to provide services, advice and healing to these patients.

Is there room for advancement?

If you want to optimize your chances of succeeding in the field of sports medicine, getting hands-on experience is key. Getting exposed to the practice of sports medicine in a variety of settings -- a school athletic program, a health club, a clinic, a training facility -- will make you more attractive to potential employers and more qualified to perform a wide range of sports medicine jobs. Taking your education seriously is another important step toward career success in sports medicine. The better your grades and the better your credentials, the more sports medicine career opportunities you will find after you graduate and become certified in your specific profession. Take advantage of internships and clinical instruction while you are in school so that you can get as much practical experience as possible.

Also, certification can be another way to be more competitive in the field. A number of organizations ranging from the Board of Certification, Inc., to the American Society of Exercise Physiologists (ASEP) and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) offer opportunities for credentialing. These organizations may also provide networking, presentations, conferences and other opportunities advantageous to advancing in a career.

Request Information from Sports Medicine Colleges

The sports medicine degree program you need in order to get your career started is listed below among many sports medicine schools, colleges, and universities. This page was designed to provide you a resource to find what you need quickly and efficiently. Request information from several of the sports medicine schools, colleges, and universities below in order to find the right program for you.

Sports Medicine Job Description

What kinds of careers are available in the field of sports medicine?

There are a variety of sports medicine careers available for those interested in combining a love of physical activity with the pursuit of an allied health profession. Sports psychologists, fitness trainers, and rehabilitative therapists are all allied healthcare professionals who work in the field of sports medicine.

Fitness trainers are trained professionals who work with athletes of all kinds.  Some fitness trainers specialize in particular sports

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Physical therapists help individuals recover and rehabilitate from physical injuries and from illnesses that damage or weaken their nerves, muscles, or other parts of the body.  Physical therapists who specialize in sports medicine assist athletes as they recover and rehabilitate from physical injuries that either are sustained during athletic activity or impair performance in athletic competition. Physical therapists work with injured athletes on a long-term basis when an injury precludes or severely limits continued participation in athletics.  A physical therapist will devise individually tailored exercises and fitness routines with the goal of restoring the athlete to a physical state in which it is possible to participate fully in athletics at the competitive level.

What is the role of psychology in sports medicine?

Those with an interest in psychology and the behavioral sciences, as well as sports, may wish to consider becoming a sports psychologist.  The field of sports psychology has been growing as athletes and those who work with them have come to appreciate the significant impact of an athlete’s state of mind on his or her performance level.  It is becoming more and more obvious that mental skills and aspects of psychological well-being--including mental discipline, the ability to concentrate, relaxation, and anxiety reduction--are as important to athletic success as physical skills.  This is especially true for athletes who compete at the professional and elite level, which entails a great deal of psychological pressure.  Sports psychologists can help athletes deal with the stress of competition and find the motivation and discipline needed to pursue the physical training necessary to succeed.  They can also help improve group dynamics within sports teams so that the members work together more successfully toward their competitive goals.

How do I decide whether I want a career in sports medicine?

Perhaps you are interested in fitness and exercise but unsure how to incorporate your enthusiasm for athletics into your career.  Learning about the variety of careers available in the sports medicine field is a good way to start thinking about possible career paths that will cater to your interests.  Once you have done your research and learned the basic parameters of the various sports medicine careers available to you, seek out people who actually work in the field.  Find a sports psychologist or a certified rehabilitative therapist and find out exactly what he or she does on a daily basis.  Ask about the skills and educational preparation needed to succeed in that career.  Can you see yourself doing what this person does for a living?

Another way to learn more about various sports medicine jobs and careers is to get some hands-on experience.  Volunteering at a local school, clinic, hospital, or community athletic facility is an excellent way to get an insider’s view of the field of sports medicine.

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Sports Medicine School

What options are available to those who want to attend sports medicine schools?

Programs in sports medicine at institutes of higher education are a relatively new phenomenon. Not long ago, it was difficult to find colleges or other schools that offered programs specifically tailored for those hoping to pursue sports medicine careers. However, college majors in areas such as sports medicine and exercise science are becoming more and more common, as are graduate degrees and certificates in these fields of interest. It is becoming increasingly common to find degree programs in areas such as kinesiology and exercise physiology at respected two-year and four-year colleges and universities across the United States. Certificate programs in rehabilitative therapy, sports coaching, and fitness counseling are also rising in popularity and availability at colleges and professional and vocational schools.

If your college or university does not have a specific program in sports medicine, there is no need to despair.  Most sports medicine careers require thorough knowledge of the sciences, especially the life sciences, and familiarity with principles of nutrition and

Of course, the type of sports medicine school you decide to attend will depend greatly on the type of sports medicine career you wish to pursue.  For instance, if your goal is to become a sports physician, you will eventually need to go to medical school.  No matter what you decide to major in at the undergraduate level, you will need to saturate your curriculum with the traditional pre-med courses, including chemistry, physics, biology, and advanced mathematics. 

If you wish to become a sports psychologist, then you will need to pursue a degree in psychology and attain a strong educational background in the behavioral sciences as well as in subjects relating to sports medicine.  On the other hand, if you want to become a rehabilitative therapist, you will want to concentrate on courses that are closely related to the work that you will eventually be doing--courses that deal with subject areas that include exercise physiology, nutrition science, sports management, and physical therapy.

What kinds of sports medicine schools can I choose from?

There is a growing range of sports medicine schools to choose from for those who wish to further explore these increasingly popular allied healthcare professions.  You can find sports medicine degrees and closely related major areas at two-year community colleges and four-year colleges and universities across the country.  Advanced degree programs in sports medicine are also becoming increasingly common at the graduate level.  Medical schools are offering programs that allow students to concentrate in sports medicine and receive advanced training in that field.  Graduate departments in psychology are adding specializations in sports psychology.  Programs in nutrition science and other health-related fields are offering courses and degree tracks catering to students who wish to learn about and eventually practice in the area of sports medicine.  Even business programs, at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, are offering majors and concentrations in sports management.  While many sports medicine degrees are offered through traditional, in-person, on-campus programs, there are many options for students who wish to pursue degrees online.

Sports Medicine Degrees

What kind of degree will I need in order to practice in the allied health fields of sports medicine?

Physical therapists generally need only a bachelor’s degree in order to practice in the sports medicine field. However, obtaining a master’s or other advanced degree or earning a certificate in sports medicine from a higher education institution can help enhance the opportunities available to you for career advancement and pay increases.

Sports psychologists generally need at least a master’s degree in psychology, preferably with a specialization in sports psychology, in order to practice in the sports medicine field.  The most prestigious and highest paying positions in sports psychology are generally reserved for individuals with a doctorate (PhDs) a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) degree.

Degrees in sports medicine, rehabilitative therapy, physical therapy, and sports psychology are offered by a variety of institutions including sports medicine schools, traditional colleges and universities, online institutes of higher education, schools of public health, and schools of exercise science. 

What education do I need to become a rehabilitative therapist?

Becoming a rehabilitative therapist generally requires a degree from a four-year college or university.  Rehabilitative therapists cooperate with sports medicine physicians and other doctors to diagnose and treat athletic injuries and optimize athletic performance.  Academic majors that will prepare you for a career in rehabilitative therapy include kinesiology, human anatomy, exercise physiology, and sports science.

Prospective rehabilitative therapists take coursework and perform hands-on, clinical work in a variety of subject areas related to healthcare and the human body, including anatomy and physiology, kinesiology, biology, first aid, emergency response and care, injury assessment and diagnosis, physical therapy, nutrition, and illness and injury prevention.  Students hoping to become rehabilitative therapists may also want to take courses in sports management, sports psychology, and professional ethics. 

Those who see themselves serving as a trainer for school athletes at any level should also take some education courses as a teaching certificate or credential may be required depending on the state and school in which the rehabilitative therapist works. 

Although a bachelor’s degree is generally sufficient to become a rehabilitative therapist, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 70 percent have a master’s or other advanced degree.  For instance, additional education beyond the bachelor’s degree is generally required for rehabilitative therapists who work with student teams at the university level.

Where can I learn more about sports medicine?

There are a number of organizations and agencies devoted to educating athletes and healthcare professionals about sports medicine and ensuring a high quality of care among those who seek out sports medicine services.  These organizations and agencies provide general information about sports medicine, offer certification credentials for rehabilitative therapists, and supply educational and professional opportunities for students and practitioners of sports medicine.

Organizations that focus on sports medicine include the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, an interdisciplinary group of physicians whose work revolves around education and research in the area of sports medicine, and the American College of Sports Medicine, an organization that hosts workshops, conferences, and other meetings for sports medicine professionals.

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  1. Athletic Trainers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2014. http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes299091.htm
  2. Athletic Trainers and Exercise Physiologists, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Jan. 8, 2014. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/athletic-trainers-and-exercise-physiologists.htm#tab-6
  3. Exercise Physiologists, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2014. http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291128.htm
  4. Physical Therapists, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2014. http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291123.htm
  5. Physical Therapist Aides, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2014. http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes312022.htm
  6. Physical Therapist Assistants, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2014. http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes312021.htm

Sports Medicine Schools