10 Popular Sports Medicine Careers

Updated March 16, 2023

Sports medicine is a rapidly growing sector of the healthcare field that focuses on preventing and treating sports-related injuries. Professionals in this field perform functions of assessment, diagnosis, treatment planning and implementation, surgery and post-operative care. The specific job functions performed depend on the education, training and other qualifications of the sports medicine professional.

In this article, we review 10 popular careers in this rewarding field of medicine.

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Why are sports medicine careers important?

Maintaining the health and well-being of athletes has a significant impact on their personal livelihood, their team’s success and the financial aspects of the sports industry. Individuals in sports medicine careers can help athletes reduce pain, build strength and enhance their athletic performance. Sports medicine professionals also help non-athletes recover from muscle, nerve and joint injuries by allowing them to regain the strength and range of motion necessary to live an active and healthy lifestyle. Because of their wide range of expertise, successful sports medicine specialists can provide both athletic and non-athletic patients with a comprehensive, customized treatment plan.

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Top sports medicine careers

Here are 10 well-known sports medicine careers:

1. Exercise physiologist

National average salary: $25.73 per hour

Primary duties: An exercise physiologist analyzes a person’s medical history and current fitness level to determine an appropriate health and exercise regimen. This includes the administration of stress and fitness tests, monitoring of vital signs before and during exercise and designing a safe and effective exercise program. Exercise physiologists are most focused on cardiovascular health and metabolism. To be an exercise physiologist, you must complete a Bachelor’s Degree in Exercise Physiology or a related field such as biology, exercise science or kinesiology. Individuals may choose to pursue a master’s degree or supplemental certifications as well.

2. Athletic trainer

National average salary: $26.56 per hour

Primary duties: An athletic trainer supports the optimal athletic performance of an individual athlete or a team of athletes. This includes recommending exercise and nutrition programs, modeling safe and effective exercise techniques, intervening early and effectively to prevent injury and timely recommendation of injury recovery techniques. Athletic trainers work in a variety of environments, including fitness centers, doctors' offices, hospitals, colleges and universities or for professional or collegiate sports teams. To be an athletic trainer, you must complete a bachelor’s or master’s degree program in athletic training and pass the Board of Certification (BOC) Athletic Training exam.

3. Orthopedic nurse

National average salary: $33.82 per hour

Primary duties: An orthopedic nurse is a registered nurse that provides care to patients with musculoskeletal diseases and disorders. This includes conditions of arthritis, broken or fractured bones, osteoporosis and joint replacement. Their support can be in the form of psychoeducation, casting, pain management and or musculoskeletal exams. Orthopedic nurses also support orthopedic surgeons with surgery preparation and patients with post-operative recovery care. They work day, night and evening shifts in hospitals, outpatient units or doctors' offices. To be an orthopedic nurse, you must obtain an Associate's or Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing and pass the National Council Licensure Examination-Registered Nurse (NCLEX-RN).

4. Kinesiotherapist

National average salary: $31.63 per hour

Primary duties: Kinesiotherapists design, implement and monitor exercise programs for individuals recovering from an injury, with an emphasis on restoring strength and mobility. Some work with athletes who are recovering from a specific injury, while others are generalists who support a range of injuries. Kinesiotherapists perform their jobs across a variety of healthcare environments including fitness centers, hospitals, doctor’s offices or sports medicine facilities. To be a kinesiotherapist, you must complete a bachelor’s degree from an accredited kinesiotherapy program. Although not required, it is recommended that people in this role also obtain the Registered Kinesiotherapist certification, which requires passing an exam.

5. Physical therapist

National average salary: $44.41 per hour

Primary duties: A physical therapist assesses a patient’s current musculoskeletal functioning, diagnoses any issues requiring treatment and recommends corresponding treatment plans. This work focuses on helping patients recover from muscle, nerve or joint injuries, regain strength and range of motion and resume an active lifestyle. Physical therapists teach and model exercises for patients and provide active support until patients are able to execute the tasks independently. Physical therapists work in rehabilitation centers, hospitals, schools, clinics and more. To be a physical therapist, you must complete a bachelor’s degree, obtain a doctor of physical therapy degree and pass a national licensure exam.

6. Sports psychologist

National average salary: $40.77 per hour

Primary duties: A sports psychologist helps athletes develop and maintain mindsets and beliefs that are conducive to athletic success. This includes mental strategies for enhancing performance, coping strategies to prevent competition burnout, and patience and pain tolerance for injury recovery. Sports psychologists also work with coaches to create spaces that are challenging but fun for athletes of all ages. The minimum requirement to be a sports psychologist is a bachelor’s degree. Many people choose to obtain a master’s or doctoral degree as well to sharpen their skills and make them a more competitive applicant.

7. Sports medicine nurse

National average salary: $91.08 per hour

Primary duties: A sports medicine nurse, typically credentialed as a nurse practitioner, supports the supervising physician in treating patients with torn ligaments, bone fractures, muscle strains, dislocation and more. This person may be responsible for obtaining the patient’s medical history, co-designing a treatment plan or educating the patient on effective recovery and injury prevention strategies. The minimum requirement to be a sports medicine nurse is to complete a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing or a related field. Many people choose to obtain a Master’s Degree in Nurse Practitioning and the Orthopedic Nursing Certification as well.

8. Physiatrist

National average salary: $92.72 per hour

Primary duties: A physiatrist is a medical doctor that practices physiatry, also known as physical medicine. A physiatrist supports patients with pain and mobility issues. This career is similar to that of a physical therapist, but it usually requires more extensive knowledge of nerve, bone and muscle issues. The focus of physiatrists involves helping patients restore physical functioning to improve their athletic performance and general quality of life. This includes mostly non-surgical treatment such as medication, exercise and other holistic options. To be a physiatrist, you must obtain a bachelor’s degree and a doctor of medicine degree, complete four years of post-doctoral residency and pass the medical board exam.

9. Primary care sports medicine physician

National average salary: $106,66 per hour

Primary duties: A sports medicine physician focuses on injury prevention, diagnosis, non-surgical treatment and rehabilitation of athletes and non-athletes who are physically active. This includes providing training and information on nutrition and athletic conditioning, recommending physical or occupational therapy treatment and making “return to play” decisions. Sports medicine physicians work across office, hospital, school and clinic settings. The most common path to becoming a primary care sports medicine physician is completing a bachelor’s degree, a doctor of medicine degree, a family medicine specialty, passing the medical boards and obtaining a supplemental, non-degree certification in sports medicine.

10. Orthopedic surgeon

National average salary: $79.56 per hour

Primary duties: An orthopedic surgeon, or orthopedist, focuses on the prevention, diagnosis and surgical and non-surgical treatment of bone, joint, tendon and muscle disorders. Orthopedic surgeons are either generalists or specialists, with specialists focusing primarily on one part of the body such as the hip, wrist or shoulder. Orthopedic surgeons work in a variety of hospital or private practice settings. To be an orthopedic surgeon, you must complete a bachelor’s degree, a doctor of medicine degree, a four- to five-year orthopedic surgery residency and any necessary board certification exams.

The sports medicine industry is very diverse, with professionals performing a variety of job functions across equally diverse work environments. By understanding the average salary, primary duties, typical work environment and necessary educational requirements of sports medicine careers, you can determine the best career path for you.

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