Is a sports therapist the same as a physical therapist?

A man and woman doing a pilates exercise in a gym.

When it comes to health professionals and doctors who can help with sports and athletic injuries, it can be tough to know who the right person to go see is.

A common term many people search for is “Sports Therapist” – but what is a sports therapist and how are they different from physical therapists?

What is a sports therapist?

There currently isn’t one career path or educational standard for this term. It’s sort of…self-proclaimed. Many athletic trainers or licensed massage therapists may refer to themselves as sports therapists if they have a personal proclivity toward treating athletic people or have taken continuing education in sports. There is a European position entitled “sports therapist”, but this is not common in the United States.

Athletic trainers (AT) have a broad scope of practice, but generally athletic trainers:

– Are trained to respond to and screen injuries right as they happen (perhaps emergency medical on a sports field) and advise coaching and staff on best next steps.

– Get an undergraduate athletic training degree and may or may not get a master’s degree

– Under the guidance of a physician, they may help athletes heal from injury through hands-on work, stretching, and exercise.


Licensed massage therapists (LMT) have one primary tool (massage) but can specialize in other skills:

– LMTs can specialize in sports massage and tools that aid in athletic recovery such as cupping
– Some LMTs get personal training certifications that allow them to guide exercise plans

– It is not in an LMT’s scope of practice to evaluate an injury and create a treatment plan


What does a Sports PHYSICAL Therapist do?

A sports physical therapist is able to evaluate, diagnose, and treat athletic injuries. They are highly equipped sports medicine professionals who can manage the care of athletes.
Treatments sports physical therapists might use include:
– Hand-on tissue work and manual techniques
– Corrective exercise, strengthening, and stability work
– Stretching as needed to optimize range of motion
– Dry needling, taping, cupping, and other therapeutic treatments
– Sports performance training to improve performance and prevent injury.

Many PTs specialize in certain sports-related injuries such as ACL tears, little leaguer’s elbow, or tommy john surgery recovery.

Sports PTs aren’t only for people who have had surgery. Many athletes go to PT as an alternative option to surgery, or as a means to prevent surgery.

Sports PTs work with people like:

– Overhead athletes with shoulder pain while throwing or lifting weights overhead
– Athletes who injured their low back while weightlifting or strength training
– Have knee or calf pain while running
– Had a new pain arise while playing or training for a sport
– Have any sort of ache or pain while trying to do something active – not just athletes on a field, but also moms and dads and grandparents trying to stay fit in the gym.

Do I need to go to a doctor to get a referral for sports physical therapy?

In most states, you do NOT need to see an MD before going to a sports physical therapist. You can simply call your local PT office and make an appointment.
Most licensed sports physical therapists are Doctors of Physical Therapy (DPT). This requires 3 years of graduate training after getting an undergraduate degree. Many DPTs will get sport-specific training as well.

If you are looking for someone to manage an ache, pain, or sports-related injury, there are many great options in several different settings that can vary from in your home, at universities, physical t

herapy clinics, and more.

For more info on the sports physical therapists in Nashville, Brentwood, and Franklin, TN at Be Ready Performance Therapy, click here.

A man in a green t - shirt smiles in front of a gym.

Dr. Ross Gentry


"This is Physical Therapy for Athletes. We relieve pain and ensure you're ready to do what you love"

Want To Get Relief Faster?

Choose which option works best for you.

Scroll to Top