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What is an Athletic Therapist?

What is an Athletic Therapist?

What is an Athletic therapist? I get this question a lot. When I am out networking and trying to make new connections or introducing myself to business’ in the healthcare industry, this is usually the first question they ask. So, what is an Athletic therapist? To answer that question we must start with their schooling. In order to become a Certified Athletic Therapist the Canadian Athletic Therapist Association (CATA) requires a 1200 hour internship process. This is one of the most stringent in the Canadian health care system. In Ontario, only two schools are approved by the CATA to teach Athletic Therapy; York University and Sheridan College. Once you have your 600 field placement hours, 600 clinical placement hours and your bachelor’s degree from an accredited school you can now apply to write your national exam that includes a written portion and a practical exam. During the practical exam you are tested on emergency care, supportive taping/bracing, modalities, injury assessment and rehabilitation. Upon successful completion of the exam the candidate is now a Certified Athletic Therapist, which is designated by the letters CAT(C).

Scope of Practice

When asked what an AT does, we call this in the health industry a scope of practice. An AT’s scope of practice is the prevention, immediate care, and reconditioning of musculoskeletal injuries. Prevention includes musculoskeletal and postural evaluation, equipment selection, fitting and repair, warm-up, conditioning programs, prophylactic or supportive taping, and adapting to the activity environment and facilities. A Certified Athletic Therapist assesses injuries and conditions, uses contemporary rehabilitative techniques, therapeutic modalities, soft tissue mobilization, physical reconditioning, and supportive strapping procedures to promote an environment conducive to optimal healing in preparing the individual for safe reintegration into an active lifestyle… unless you are in or familiar with the health industry that probably doesn’t mean much to you. For a small sample size of how much an Athletic Therapist can treat, here is a list of the conditions I saw just last week:

  • Post operative ACL reconstruction
  • SI Joint pain
  • Post radial fracture rehabilitation
  • herniated disc
  • C6 nerve root compression (numbness down arm)
  • post concussion syndrome
  • ankle sprain
  • concussion baseline test
  • hip flexor strain
  • plantar fasciitis
  • PFPS
  • IT Band Friction Syndrome
  • rotator cuff tear
  • post operative shoulder labrum reconstruction
  • frozen shoulder
  • sprained MCL/LCL
  • whiplash from an Motor Vehicle Accident
  • sciatica/piriformis syndrome

Athletic Therapy and Emergency Response

The root of an Athletic Therapist or AT for short, are with sports teams, hence ‘Athletic’ Therapist. An AT will work with all levels of sports teams from minor sports to professional sports. Most commonly we are seen running on to the ice, court of field of play to attend to a downed athlete. Yes… we are the men and women running onto the field with a fanny pack around our waist and our towels flying. Often called trainers, which we are not, we are therapists, the name trainer comes from our neighbour to the south. The States have Athletic Trainers, same profession, different name and a common misconception in Canada. When there is a downed athlete, we do an on field assessment to ensure safe removal of the athlete from the field of play. During our field assessment we assess and are trained to deal with all medical emergencies, including life threatening conditions like major bleeds, heart attacks, open fractures, allergic reactions, and even identifying brain bleeds and suspected neck fractures.   Most often the athlete has a sprained ligament or strained muscle and we can usually tape or brace the athlete and get them back into the game. If we determine that the injury is to severe to return to play but not severe enough to acquire hospitalization we will then pull the athlete from the game (usually to protect them from injuring themselves further) and go into the clinic and start with the rehabilitation and treatment process. You may be wondering how does an AT ‘determine’ severity of injury. As apart of our schooling we are taught specific tests to determine integrity of muscle, ligament, bone, nerve (yes you read that correctly) cartilage (meniscus in the knee), and even leakage of cerebrospinal fluid. As you can see, we are taught to treat athletes from the first 5 minutes of injury all the way through getting back into sport.

A Personal Athletic Therapy Story

I was working with a college soccer team when an athlete had hurt their knee during practice. They were unable to run without pain or finish practice.   We were headed to the provincial championships in two weeks. This athlete had a history of knee and ankle injuries so this was going to be a challenge to get her ready to play. I had to first identify what the issue was. Going through my orthopedic assessment in the clinic, I found they had a click during one of my tests which usually means their is a tear in their meniscus. The meniscus is the cartilage in your knee and can have a few different types of tears. We started the rehab process by using techniques to get the swelling down in their knee. They respond very well to this treatment and within two days, the swelling almost completely dissipated. The next step was to start increasing their range of motion (this is a cool way of saying get the athlete to fully flex and extend their knee). We then get into strengthening the core, hip, knee and ankle, and again, the athlete responds great to this. By day seven, we are back on the field!

As an athletic therapist, a major part of my job is providing motivation and support while an athlete is attempting to reach their physical performance goals. With only six days until we leave, the soccer athlete was feeling a lack of confidence with their knee and experiencing some pain during drills at full speed. I worked with the athlete individually going through movements at a slower pace to identify where the problem lies. Putting in this extra time, allowed us to retrain the joint to function properly. And voila! No pain.

The player was able to practice the rest of the week and we eventually went on to win the provincial championship and take bronze at the national championship. Watching the athlete play and win in their last year of school was when I realized how much I love what I do and what kind of impact I can have on other peoples lives. Every injury is different, but as a Certified Athletic Therapist, we are taught to think quick, on the spot, be critical in our assessment of the body and always put the patient first.

Athletic Therapist Soccer Injury


Final Thoughts

Now to answer my original question— What is an Athletic Therapist?

To me, a Certified Athletic Therapist is someone who stays up late at night to make sure they give optimal treatments the next day. It is someone who is more concerned about your health then our own. An AT is someone the public should get to know better as we help thousands of athletes each year play the sport they love. If we can get professional athletes back to being the top 5% they are, whose to say we can’t get you back to work, recreational sport, Crossfit, weightlifting, Spartan races, Tough Mudder’s, and even just back to walking after surgery or playing with grandkids.

Many people have benefits and most major insurance companies provide coverage for Athletic Therapy. You can get your appointment and have your own experience with an Athletic Therapist at Apple Creek Sports Medicine. We always welcome you with a smile and ensure you are treated with experienced hands.

We hope you never get hurt, but in the case you do, don’t be afraid to give us a call!!!

Nicholas Halkidis CAT(C) RMT