Banner feature

What is the role of a sports trainer in acute injury management?

Have you ever wondered what those guys who run onto sports fields mid game in fluro bibs and backpacks actually do? Most of them are sports trainers.

A sports trainer is a vital member of a sports team who provides a crucial link between the coach, player, and health professional. They are highly qualified and multi skilled health care experts that help provide preventative services, emergency care, clinical diagnosis, therapeutic intervention and rehabilitation of injuries and medical conditions.

A sports trainer is responsible for making sport safer for the athletes that participate in it. That can be preventative, teaching players how to prevent injuries using anatomical expertise, or curative, giving first aid and ensuring injuries are tended to quickly and effectively.

Sports trainers are not just limited to working with elite sporting teams – they also play a vital role across community sport and kids sporting teams.

Sports trainers play an important role in preventing further injury and determining if the injured player can continue or take no further part in the game. If further treatment or injury diagnosis required, they coordinate this and can refer to other allied health providers or medical specialists and manage ongoing rehabilitation programs.

So how do sports trainers assess injuries either on the field or in the change rooms?

One of the popular methods of classifying and managing sports injuries is the TOTAPS method (talk, observe, touch, active movement, passive movement, skills test).

They use this method to assess the nature and extent of an injury to a player and make a decision as to whether or not the athlete who is injured can resume playing.

  • Talk – The athlete should be asked a range of questions to establish what happened and how they were feeling. For example: Where is the pain? Did you hear anything? What happened to cause it? Is this the first time this has happened?
  • Observe – The injured site must be carefully inspected identify any signs of swelling and deformity. It can help to compare the injured site to the other side of the body. (E.g., compare one ankle to the other, to assess an ankle injury). Signs of deformity or swelling are an indication of either soft or hard tissue damage, which means further assessment and treatment from a professional is required.
  • Touch – If observation fails to yield results the next step involves feeling around the injured site to identify any deformity or swelling. Gentle pressure should be applied from the outside of the injury first.
  • Active movement – The athlete will need to test movement around the injured site by performing actions such as flexion, extension and rotation to determine whether the mobility of the joint has been affected. If there is no pain whilst the athlete is performing the movement by themselves then they need to complete an isometric contraction before the athlete can move ahead to the last step. If the assessor feels that the athlete does not have a full range of movement, they should progress to the next stage.
  • Passive movement – If full range of movement is not evident, the assessor or sports trainer needs to physically mobilise the joint to test the range of motion and identify any instability and painful areas. The athlete must be watched to see if they exhibit signs of discomfort.
  • Skills test – The final stage requires the athlete to complete sport specific movements that mimic those which are performed during the game. For example, walking, jogging, side stepping, changing direction and jumping. If the athlete can complete these and the assessor is satisfied, then they can return to play. During this test the assessor must watch the athlete for any signs of discomfort or favour towards one side. At this stage, strapping may be used to reinforce the injured site.

The athlete must complete and pass all assessment procedures in order to be considered fit enough to return to the playing field.

If the athlete is unable to complete any of the requirements from TOTAPS, then they should be referred to a medical professional for further treatment. The assessment of the injury can be stopped at any time if it is evident that the athlete is feeling pain and cannot return to the field.

Source: Improving PDHPE.

The qualifications required to become a sports trainer vary quite a lot. In Australia, Trainers may hold or be working towards a qualification in the following allied health fields:

  • Physiotherapy
  • Medicine
  • Sports science
  • Health care/paramedicine
  • Nursing
  • Occupational health and safety

There is no prerequisite of these courses to become a sports trainer, although they do assist in your overall knowledge of anatomy and injury. There are also various certificates through Sports Medicine Australia such as Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3 sports trainer that can lead to qualification.

Lifecare Physiotherapists work together with individuals and sporting teams to ensure that there is a safe return to pre-injury capacity and sport through:

  • Reducing complications associated with an individual’s injury by providing optimal care at the earliest opportunity
  • Early intervention to help get individuals back achieving their goals
  • Targeted exercise program to ensure adequate tissue healing and return to top performance
  • Tailored programs to suit an individual’s needs for their desired sport/hobby/activity

To find out more about the services offered by Lifecare, visit their website below.

Join us at our next event

If you are a working or aspiring sports trainer, Lifecare physiotherapists run free sport trainer seminars and workshops to share their knowledge and expertise.

These sessions are ideal for physiotherapist graduates looking to assist their local sporting teams.

Lifecare Sports Trainer Series: Acute injury management – what to do?

7:00pm, 2 February 2022

Lifecare Fremantle
Ground Floor, Ellen Health Medical Centre,
Cnr Wray Ave & Hampton Rd
Fremantle WA 6160

Places are limited so RSVP to secure your spot. All RSVP’s and enquiries to