Certified Athletic Trainers are Expert Sports Medicine Practitioners

When one hears the term sports medicine they often think of orthopedic surgeons.  However, sports medicine is an umbrella term used to describe a collection of professions related to athletic health care.  If one were to examine all the domains that sports medicine encompasses, they would soon find that Certified Athletic Trainers are the quintessential sports medicine providers, as their breadth of knowledge and practical skills best embodies the term, incorporating many aspects of the individual domains into one profession. 

Athletic training is a paramedical profession practiced by highly skilled health care professionals called Certified Athletic Trainers.  Certified Athletic Trainers collaborate with physicians to optimize patient activity and participation in athletics, work, and life. The practice of athletic training encompasses the prevention, examination, diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation of emergent, acute, and chronic neuromusculoskeletal conditions and certain medical conditions in order to minimize subsequent impairments, functional limitations, and disability.  Additionally, Athletic trainers are on the front lines in combating concussions, and are often the most experienced practitioner in regards to sports related head injuries.

Certified Athletic Trainers must graduate from an accredited athletic training education program and pass a national certification exam, which is administered by the independent Board of Certification, to ensure they are proficient in hundreds of medical competencies.  Additionally, while required to hold at least a bachelor’s degree, over 70% have earned master’s degrees.  Certified Athletic Trainers are also required to complete 50 hours of continuing medical education every two years, and 49 of the 50 states require state licensure to practice.  

Unfortunately, the title “athletic training” does not adequately represent the profession, and Certified Athletic Trainers are often confused with personal fitness trainers.  This mistake is perpetuated by the common use of the term “trainer” rather than the proper, “athletic trainer.”  Currently, athletic training is recognized by the American Medical Association as an allied health profession and is involved only in part with what one would describe as the training of athletes.

Certified athletic trainers working in a traditional athletics setting provide an extraordinary continuity of medical care, which is unique to the profession.  Typically, when an athlete suffers an injury, the athletic trainer is on the sideline and observes the injury occur, then immediately performs a brief on-field examination to decide if, and how, to remove the athlete from the playing surface.  If the player is not to be moved, the athletic trainer immediately enacts a previously prepared emergency action plan, and begins providing emergency care.  If the athlete can be safely moved, a thorough off-field examination begins.  Within minutes of the occurrence of injury, the non-emergently injured athlete has received two examinations, a diagnosis, and initial injury care.  If the standard of care for the injury is beyond the scope of the athletic trainer’s practice, the athletic trainer will then refer the athlete to the appropriate professional.  However, the majority of injuries are cared for by the athletic trainer from the initial injury through full resolution.  Even those athletes that are referred to another health care professional for further evaluation or care are most often referred back to the athletic trainer, who then coordinates and monitors the injured athlete’s treatment plan.

In summary, Certified Athletic Trainers are highly skilled health care practitioners that provide expert orthopedic care for the physically active.  This care includes the prevention, examination, diagnosis, treatment, rehabilitation, and referral of injuries and illnesses.

You can learn more about athletic trainers at the National Athletic Trainers' Association Website here.