What is an Athletic Trainer: Roles and Responsibilities in Sports Medicine

Athletic trainer assisting a focused athlete with weightlifting, representing the crucial role in sports medicine, as explained in 'What is an Athletic Trainer' article by INSURE FITNESS GROUP.

An athletic trainer is a certified health care professional mastering injury prevention, diagnosis, rehabilitation, and sports medicine. Athletic trainers play a crucial role in athletic health, working closely with individuals to ensure peak performance and rapid, safe injury recovery. This article dives into the multifaceted world of athletic trainers, answering the question, “What is an athletic trainer?” by uncovering their essential functions, training, and impact on sports and health care.

Key Takeaways

  • Certified athletic trainers are health care professionals specialized in sports medicine, providing comprehensive care through injury prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation, collaborating with multidisciplinary teams across diverse settings beyond just sports arenas.
  • A career as an athletic trainer requires a specialized educational pathway, with at least a bachelor’s or master’s degree from an accredited program, certification through the Board of Certification (BOC), and a commitment to ongoing continuing education to maintain knowledge and credentials.
  • Athletic trainers significantly impact injury prevention, patient education, and health care costs; they facilitate efficient care, improve patient outcomes, decrease absenteeism, and ensure compliance with health care regulations, contributing to the broader health and human services field.

Defining the Athletic Trainer

The world of sports is thrilling, dynamic, and full of challenges. One key player who ensures the smooth running of this world is the certified athletic trainer. Certified and licensed health care professionals and certified athletic trainers specialize in sports medicine. Their expertise lies in preventing, diagnosing, treating, and rehabilitating injuries and medical conditions in athletes and non-athletes.

They collaborate with a multidisciplinary team of coaches, physicians, and physical therapists to deliver comprehensive care. From sports medicine clinics to professional sports teams, athletic trainers ensure that athletes are always in top form, ready to face any physical challenge that comes their way.

The Role of Athletic Trainers in Health Care Teams

Athletic trainers are not just confined to the sidelines of a sports field. They play a significant role within health care teams, providing:

  • Primary care
  • Injury and illness prevention
  • Wellness promotion
  • Education

Their role goes beyond the physical aspects of athletic training. They are the bridge to resources and advocate for the best interests of individuals and teams. They supervise athletic training students and may even teach, showcasing their multifaceted skill set beyond their direct responsibilities.

Their teamwork with physicians underscores their significant role in health care. They work together, maintain frequent communication, and seek assistance when necessary. This collaboration is fundamental in providing comprehensive care for athletes. Guided by the best practices established by the National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA), they commit to delivering top-level care.

Athletic Training vs. Personal Training

While athletic and personal trainers work closely with individuals to improve their physical performance, their roles and responsibilities are markedly different. Athletic trainers are health care providers with expertise in injury prevention, assessment, treatment, and rehabilitation for athletes and non-athletes. They are equipped with various rehabilitation techniques, encompassing massage, dry needling, cupping, and cryotherapy. They conduct functional training exercises to enhance movement and address different phases of injury rehabilitation.

On the other hand, personal trainers are fitness professionals who focus on guiding clients to accomplish their fitness objectives through exercise routines. A personal training session may involve a variety of exercises, such as:

  • Jump-rope
  • Fundamental movements like squats and push-ups
  • Cardio workouts
  • Circuit training
  • High-intensity interval training (HIIT)
  • Bodyweight and weight training
  • Outdoor activities

They do not have health care provider status, and their qualifications differ from those of athletic trainers.

Educational Pathways to Becoming an Athletic Trainer

Certain educational requirements and qualifications are necessary to pursue a career as an athletic trainer. It starts with completing a bachelor’s or master’s degree from an accredited professional athletic training education program, where courses include:

  • Biology
  • Anatomy
  • Nutrition
  • Sports medicine
  • Kinesiology

The journey doesn’t end there, as aspiring athletic trainers must pass a comprehensive exam to practice successfully.

However, the learning journey persists, as athletic trainers must partake in continued education to keep their field knowledge and practices current.

Certifications and Licensing

Becoming an athletic trainer is not just about completing a degree; it’s about earning the professional credential ATC®, the entry-level credential for practicing Athletic Training. The Board of Certification (BOC) is responsible for administering the certification of athletic trainers in the United States. Certification involves fulfilling coursework and apprenticeship criteria and passing the BOC exam.

However, the commitment to learning continues beyond there. Athletic trainers must commit to continuing education to retain their credentials. Continuous learning maintains their knowledge and guarantees they provide superior care to their athletes.

Advanced Studies and Specializations

Many athletic trainers don’t stop at certification. They push their boundaries, aiming for advanced degrees such as master’s and specializations to enhance their expertise. Specializations like sports medicine and cardiac rehabilitation allow them to refine their skills in specific areas of interest.

Pursuing advanced degrees and specializations broadens their practical knowledge and skills and opens doors to a wider range of opportunities. They can work with diverse athletes and potentially become eligible for teaching roles in professional athletic training programs. Additionally, these pursuits lead to enhanced advancement prospects and greater earning potential within the field.

Athletic Training Encompassed: A Day in the Life

Having outlined the educational and certification pathways, let’s examine a typical day for an athletic trainer. Their day is filled with diverse tasks, including:

  • Evaluating and treating musculoskeletal injuries
  • Providing preventive and therapeutic care
  • Applying athletic tape, bandages, and braces for injury protection
  • Performing stretching techniques as part of their on-field responsibilities

Their main goal is to help individuals recover their maximum performance and functionality after an injury.

They are equipped to manage a broad range of injuries, such as:

  • Sprains/strains
  • Muscle tears
  • Stress fractures
  • Tendonitis/bursitis
  • Knee ligament damage
  • Ankle sprains
  • Knee sprains/strains
  • Concussions

Injury Prevention and Risk Management

Prevention is always better than cure. This adage holds in athletic training. Athletic trainers play a pivotal role in injury prevention by:

  • Developing tailored injury prevention programs
  • Educating athletes on proper warm-up and cool-down techniques
  • Teaching athletes specific stretches, exercises, and warm-ups to minimize the risk of injury
  • Employing evidence-based primary injury prevention techniques to lower the likelihood of acute traumatic joint injuries
  • Identifying potential injury hazards to apply preventive measures

Beyond injury prevention, athletic trainers also:

  • Formulate risk management strategies for their clients
  • Identify and describe risk management practices
  • Offer guidance for clients to engage in unsupervised activities safely
  • Craft a combination of customized strategies to the client’s specific needs, ensuring adherence to their scope of practice.

Diagnosis, Treatment, and Rehabilitation

Despite the best prevention and risk management strategies, injuries do occur. And when they do, athletic trainers are there to diagnose, treat, and rehabilitate. They use various techniques, including isokinetic testing, AlterG anti-gravity treadmill, and physical therapy, to identify sports injuries. They address a range of sports injuries, such as sprains/strains, muscle tears, stress fractures, tendonitis/bursitis, and knee ligament damage, by emphasizing injury prevention and educating athletes about wellness.

Collaboration is key in the treatment and management of injuries. Athletic trainers work closely with physicians, contributing to rehabilitation and providing cooperative care to enhance the treatment of injured athletes. They also utilize techniques such as the following for rehabilitation purposes:

  • Bracing
  • Taping
  • Massage
  • Dry needling
  • Cupping
  • Cryotherapy
  • Splinting

Career Outlook and Opportunities for Athletic Trainers

The profession of athletic training is both rewarding and promising. Athletic trainers can work in various settings, including:

  • High schools
  • Colleges
  • Professional sports teams
  • Health care administration
  • Physicians’ offices
  • Industrial settings
  • The military
  • Performing arts arenas

The Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates significant growth in the U.S. due to increased awareness of sports-related injuries and the growing active aging population. With the right qualifications and a passionate commitment to the profession, the average annual salary for an athletic trainer is approximately $48,420.

Athletic Training in Various Settings

Athletic trainers don’t just operate within the confines of a sports field or a gym. They provide their services in a variety of settings, including:

  • Professional sports teams are instrumental in preventing, diagnosing, and treating muscle and bone injuries and illnesses, preparing supplies and equipment, and administering treatments before and after games or competitions.
  • The military where serves a significant role by offering training services, administering medicine, and providing primary care for immediate injuries.
  • Law enforcement, where they assist officers in maintaining physical fitness and endurance, is a crucial aspect of their demanding roles.

In hospitals, athletic trainers:

  • Improve patient outcomes by focusing on pain reduction and increasing physical comfort
  • Participate in quality improvement initiatives
  • Collaborate with medical professionals to ensure superior care delivery

Their work extends beyond the typical realm of sports, providing valuable services to diverse populations.

Impact of Athletic Trainers on Patient Education and Health Care Costs

The role of athletic trainers transcends the physical aspects of athletic training, extending to patient education and reducing health care costs. They play a significant role as educators in health care, guiding patients throughout treatment and enhancing their understanding of health, wellness, and injury management.

Athletic trainers:

  • Implement quality improvement methods
  • Emphasize mental and emotional well-being
  • Deliver primary care, injury and illness prevention, wellness promotion, and education
  • Advocate for healthy eating habits
  • Provide support for the emotional well-being of their clients

They also contribute to reducing health care costs by facilitating efficient care and preventing injuries. This can help mitigate the need for more extensive medical treatment, reducing health care costs. This reduction in health care costs is a testament to athletic trainers’ value to sports and the health care industry.

Athletic Training Services and Their Value

The scope of athletic training services is wide-ranging and beneficial. These professionals:

  • Promote health and safety in sports
  • Offer essential health care services
  • Ensure secure participation
  • Enhance patient outcomes
  • Guarantee that organizations maintain excellent care standards
  • Rigorously supervise the safe participation of individuals in sports and other activities

They also contribute to reducing health care costs by facilitating efficient care and preventing injuries, thus limiting unnecessary health care costs. Athletic trainers play a significant role in ensuring compliance with state and federal health care laws, which is crucial for organizations to deliver consistent and lawful health care services.

Collaboration with the Health Resources Services Administration

Teamwork is a fundamental aspect of athletic trainers’ work, notably apparent in their collaboration with the health care team and the Health Resources Services Administration. This collaboration facilitates enhanced communication and patient-centered care, contributing towards improved patient outcomes.

Through the provision of:

  • Primary care
  • Injury and illness prevention
  • Wellness promotion
  • Education

As part of the allied health care profession, athletic trainers work with the Health Resources Services Administration, health and human services, and the American Medical Association to enhance the quality of patient-centered care.

The Health Resources Services Administration has implemented several initiatives for injury prevention, including:

  • Evidence-based resources
  • The Countermeasures Injury Compensation Program
  • Partnerships with the Maternal and Child Health Bureau and other organizations that involve Athletic Trainers

This collaboration not only enhances patient care but also contributes to preventing injuries.

Athletic Training’s Role in Human Services

Athletic training is pivotal in human services, promoting health, wellness, and injury prevention across diverse populations. They mitigate the impact of social determinants of health on their patients and offer services to a wide range of populations through community outreach. Their contribution to the well-being of individuals and communities is evident in the way they:

  • Address injury prevention
  • Provide rehabilitation services
  • Educate individuals on proper exercise techniques
  • Collaborate with other healthcare professionals
  • Advocate for the importance of physical activity

By effectively reducing injury and rehabilitation time, they contribute to decreased absenteeism and health care costs, impacting the community’s overall well-being.


Choosing a career as an athletic trainer is not just about a love for sports. It’s about making a difference in the lives of athletes and non-athletes alike. It’s about prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation. It’s about education and collaboration. It’s about making sports safer and healthier. And it’s about being a part of the dynamic and growing field of sports medicine. So, if you’re like Alex, driven by a passion for sports and a desire to help others, a career in athletic training could be your calling.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does an athletic trainer do?

Athletic trainers provide first aid, emergency care, and rehabilitation programs for injured athletes while also focusing on injury prevention and performing administrative tasks. They are uniquely trained in these areas to manage and treat injuries among athletes.

What is an allied health care profession?

Allied health care professions encompass diverse health care disciplines beyond medicine and nursing. These professionals work collaboratively with physicians and nurses, providing diagnostic, therapeutic, technical, and support services to enhance patient care. Examples of allied health care professions include physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, and athletic trainers, each playing a vital role in the holistic health care approach.

How is an athletic trainer different than a fitness trainer?

An athletic trainer primarily focuses on helping clients recuperate from injuries, often working at colleges, hospitals, clinics, and professional sports teams. On the other hand, a fitness trainer typically works at gyms and health clubs and assists the general public in improving their overall fitness level.

Is an athletic trainer the same as a coach?

No, an athletic trainer is responsible for the safety and health of athletes. At the same time, a coach focuses on helping the team win games and improve competition performance.

What educational qualifications are required to become an athletic trainer?

To become an athletic trainer, you must complete a bachelor’s or master’s degree from an accredited athletic training education program and pass the Athletic Trainer Certification Exam. This is essential for obtaining the professional credential ATC®.

Meet The Author:

Parker Franklin

Parker, IFG’s Brand Manager since 2022, began his wellness journey in 2020, leading to a significant personal transformation. He holds a journalism degree from Murray State University and started his career as an award-winning journalist in western Kentucky before transitioning into marketing and PR.

At IFG, Parker is responsible for writing content, managing The Fit newsletter, and overseeing promotions and collaborations with affiliate fitness organizations.

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