What is a Sport Rehabilitator?

So, this is something we get asked, all the time. What is a Sport Rehabilitator?

Do you only deal with sporting injuries or athletes?

I think an opening statement from our governing body, BASRaT, would be a great way to start this off.

‘Sport Rehabilitators help people suffering from pain, injury or illness involving the musculoskeletal system. They help people of all ages to maintain their health and fitness, recover from and prevent injury and reduce pain using exercise, movement and manual based therapeutic interventions.’ BASRaT

I think before you decide to apply for the course, or look over going to see a Sport Rehabilitator for your injury, it is important to consider a few different factors such as the path you want to take, whether that be assessing patients, being an exercise instructor or working within sports.

So, let’s go right back to the very start, around 20 years ago (maybe a few more).

Our course was founded by a Physiotherapist called Julien Hatcher and most new graduate Sport Rehabilitators who have studied at institutions other than Salford may not know this as he actually founded the course at the University of Salford and remained the head of the programme up until 2019, he still teaches on the course, however, he has now passed the torch to Dr Allan Munro, who had been a lecturer on the course at Salford for a few years and had worked at other Universities to help set up the course at other institutions. Allan also would have been one of the first-year groups to study the course.

In one of our lectures, Julian stated that he had the idea of creating the course because he didn’t believe he had the appropriate skills to give the athletes the highest standard of care when getting them back to full fitness. This was most likely because he would have never been taught it.

This seems to be a common theme as well when you read the modules that Physiotherapy encompasses.

They have a module titled ‘Principles of Exercise Therapy’ which appears to be the only module relating to exercise prescription, it is no wonder that Julian didn’t feel confident, especially if his learning was a similar experience to today.

Now, what I am not saying is physiotherapist are not able to prescribe exercises and have no knowledge of sporting requirements etc, it is simply an observation that exercise therapy doesn’t appear to be a big focus of their University experience.

The course Sport Rehabilitation, however, now consists of ‘Foundation Exercise and Conditioning’ and ‘Applied Exercise and Conditioning’ in the first year of study, and in the second year of study has a module called ‘Advanced Exercise and Conditioning’

This means that Sport Rehabilitators spend 2 years learning all around exercise and conditioning, this constitutes to learning activity modification and programming and how to regress or progress different exercises for different populations such as elite athletes to the geriatric population.

Due to research supporting the use of exercise therapy for the rehabilitation of musculoskeletal injuries, it really is no surprise that Graduates from Sport Rehabilitation have found their way into Professional Sport, Olympic Sports, Private Clinical Practice, Ministry of Defence, Rehabilitation Case Management, NHS, Performing Arts.

In the twenty plus years, those who have come before graduates like myself have paved the way and impressed those they have worked with. Practitioners like Mike Carolan have helped shape the way the MOD hires and structures the rehabilitation programmes and now the MOD actively hires rehabbers to fill roles that require high levels of exercise and rehabilitation knowledge.

Now, you’re probably thinking so you just offer exercise prescription and work with populations from the geriatric to elite athletes to get better using exercises, what else do you offer?

Well, we undergo a lot of training and teaching relating to human body anatomy, musculoskeletal assessments and conditions that affect the MSK system and how to treat these conditions and injuries.

The first year consists of 2 modules to develop an understanding of the anatomy and conditions affecting the musculoskeletal system. This leads to a full year of building knowledge that then underpins everything we learn after that.

Throughout the three years, there is also a massive emphasis on therapy and rehabilitation skills with a whopping 4 modules. Therapy skills teaches us how to rehabilitate and treat all different conditions and injuries, relating to different populations and how to use the tools in our toolset. This is where you learn techniques such as Sports massage, electrotherapy, mobilisations and manipulations, exercise prescription, muscle energy techniques, activity modification, manual therapy techniques and treatments relating to the nervous system such as neural sliders.

When I have spoken to people and challenged their beliefs on why they need to go to see the physio, it is often due to a lack of knowledge regarding what a Sport Rehabilitator is more than anything, that’s even if they have heard of us at all.

I believe as knowledge around our sector progresses and as more Rehabbers get into better positions throughout sports and the NHS, knowledge of the profession will improve and our success will grow and grow, however, for the time being, we ae very much in the shadow of Physiotherapy, often without them even knowing or meaning to keep us there.

I think our profession works well alongside Physiotherapy and also compliments S&C, two degrees Rehabbers have the chance to Master in once they have completed their undergraduate qualification.

I know I have mentioned Physiotherapy a few times here and I know there’s often a perceived rivalry with Physios that know Rehabbers which is all fun and games, and there are some clear similarities between the two professions, however, there are even more differences such as the Physiotherapy profession having the ability to jump between respiratory, cardiovascular, neurological and musculoskeletal specialisms, whereas Rehabbers being Musculoskeletal Specialists with no real in detailed learning of the aforementioned systems.

Both professions have a mutual goal and that is to help our patients/ athletes in our care to recover and achieve their goals, whatever they may be. Each profession is better suited to different roles, however, it will always appear that we are competing. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of competition to regulate and push each profession to the highest standard, provided it doesn’t result in the professions tearing each other down or making one seem more than the other.

Thanks for reading!



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