An athletic Trainer is...

Athletic Trainers (ATs) are health care providers who specialize in the prevention, assessment, diagnosis, treatment, rehabilitation, and emergency care of injuries and medical conditions. Athletic trainers are recognized as a healthcare profession by the American Medical Association (AMA) and operate under a licensed medical physician and in collaboration with other health care providers to provide optimal care. 

Athletic trainers have the unique opportunity to know their patients before they become patients. They play a critical role in the complete care of athletic injuries by providing a communication link between parents, administrators, coaches, and other medical health care practitioners.  

ATs provide a safer environment for their athletes and reduce risk with their skills in prevention and immediate care.

A common misconception: Athletic Trainers vs Personal Trainers

  • Although the name is misleading, athletic trainers have a significantly different and larger scope of practice than personal trainers. They are a qualified medical profession and required to have a bachelors or masters in athletic training, complete a rigorous program at a CAATE accredited university, pass a comprehensive certification exam, and uphold all standards of practice of the NATA and BOC. In addition, licensure is required in all states except for California where litigation is still in progress.

  • Athletic training is based in the diagnosis and treatment of musculoskeletal injuries as well as emergent care. Personal trainers, while knowledgeable and important in their role, are not qualified to act as athletic trainers in any situation.

The title of “athletic trainer” and the National Athletic Trainers’ Association

The statutory title of “athletic trainer” is a misnomer but is derived from the profession’s historical roots. Athletic trainers provide medical services to all types of people – not just athletes participating in sports – and do not train people as personal or fitness trainers do. However, the profession continues to embrace its proud culture and history by retaining the title. In other countries, athletic therapist and physiotherapist are similar titles. The National Athletic Trainers’ Association represents more than 44,000 members in the U.S. and internationally, and there are about 50,000 ATs practicing nationally. NATA represents students in 325 accredited collegiate academic programs. The athletic training profession began early in the 20th century, and NATA was established in 1950. -- NATA Profiles of Athletic Trainers document (2016)

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Domains of athletic training

  • Injury and Illness Prevention and Wellness Promotion

Injury risk and wellness assessments are done through screening of pre-participation exams, functional movement screenings, and observation in the environment and then development of a injury prevention program based on findings. A basic example of implementation: designing a proper warm-up with specific exercises in flexibility, strength, agility, and  for women's soccer to help reduce the risk of ACL tears.

Other tools include taping, bracing, monitoring for proper hydration and nutrition, ergonomic position training etc.

  • Examination, Assessment, and Diagnosis

Athletic trainers are trained in proper evaluation through history, observation, physical examination, and special tests. Together these create a complete picture of each individual injury and lead to an accurate diagnosis.

A variety of examples include concussions, ACL tears, muscle strains/sprains, environmental illnesses (heat/cold), etc.

  • Immediate and Emergency Care

Trained in AED/CPR/First Aid and emergency action plans (EAP), athletic trainers create a safer environment and are ready to respond with their team (designated through the EAP) should an emergency arise.

Examples include spine injuries, sudden cardiac arrest, and extreme injuries requiring immediate transport/surgery.

  • Therapeutic Intervention

Using specific techniques and equipment, athletic trainers posses the skill to properly rehabilitate injuries, illnesses, and general medical conditions to aid in optimal recovery.

ATs provide complete and individualized rehabilitation programs designed to help their patients recover as quickly and safely as possible. They include the use of modalities (ultrasound, electrical stimulation, etc), flexibility, strength, agility, and proprioception exercises.

  • Healthcare Administration and Professional Responsibility

The development of policies, procedures, and risk assessments and proper implementation in the athletic trainers setting/organization. This includes following all local, state, and national laws and professional standards as well as and proper documentation and organization.



Athletic Trainers can work in many different settings. Listed below are the most common.

  • Dual Credential: Some athletic trainers go on to gain a second credential and practice in that setting while maintaining their certification. Popular fields are physical therapists, physicians assistant, and more recently physician extender. Athletic trainer’s add alot of value in this setting, for more information check out NATA’s guide to how AT’s provide value in the physician practice.

  • Industrial: This is an emerging setting where the athletic trainer is employed part or full time by an industrial company and includes work in ergonomics,  injury prevention, evaluation, and rehabilitation onsite. More specific examples are: developing Post Offer Employment Testing, Return to Duty Testing and designing pre-shift  injury prevention routines. Company examples: Work Fit, FedEx, and Boeing.

  • Professional: ATs working in this setting are almost always employed by the team itself and operate under the team physician. 

  • College: Ranging from junior/community college to NCAA Division 1 there are various levels of opportunity for athletic trainers at the collegiate level.

  • High School: Schools often employ athletic trainers full time, or part time teacher/athletic trainer. Some athletic trainers are also employed by clinics/hospitals and work as outreach athletic trainers.