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Professional pathways towards excellence in sports physiotherapy: opportunities and barriers
  1. Adam G Culvenor1,2
  1. 1Paracelsus Medical University, Institute of Anatomy Salzburg & Nuremburg, Salzburg, Austria
  2. 2La Trobe University, School of Allied Health, Bundoora, Victoria, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Dr Adam G Culvenor, Institute of Anatomy, Paracelsus Medical University, Salzburg 5020, Austria; adam.culvenor{at}

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If you want to be around in 10 years you’ve got to do something to differentiate yourself from the pack. Christopher Evans

The growth in physiotherapy

The number of physiotherapists around the world is increasing. Data from the UK show that the number of registered physiotherapists increased by 41% between 2000 and 2009.1 In Canada, a 7.5% increase in the number of registered physiotherapists occurred between 2007 and 2011.2 The increase in the number of undergraduate and graduate entry physiotherapy programmes in Australia has also created higher numbers of qualified physiotherapists.3 While this growth in the international physiotherapy profession is positive, particularly in regard to meeting current and future needs of an ageing global population, a higher number of physiotherapists may create professional and personal challenges. Such challenges likely include greater market competition to attract consumers (ie, patients) in the private sector, and a greater number of candidates applying for particular physiotherapy positions; good for organisations, more difficult for individual physiotherapists pursuing that dream job. The need to differentiate oneself as a physiotherapist has perhaps never been more apparent. This is particularly the case in the high-profile sporting sphere, where competition for national and elite medical team roles is high.

One pathway towards excellence in sports physiotherapy and to help ‘stand out from the pack’ is undertaking further professional education. While continuing professional development events spanning from a one hour lecture to a multiple day course are abundant and typically aim to enhance knowledge of a particular body part (eg, shoulder), technique (eg, dry needling), or tissue (eg, tendons), accredited institution based postgraduate courses enable formal recognition of advanced training. Such programmes include graduate certificates, diplomas and master's degrees. A PhD is another avenue for specialised postgraduate education and undoubtedly promotes specialisation in a very distinct field. However, the nature of a PhD means that there is typically a much stronger focus on advancing knowledge through research than on developing specific clinical skills.

Opportunities after a Master of Sports Physiotherapy degree

In the area of sports physiotherapy, Master of Sports Physiotherapy is an ideal avenue to specialise in. It allows a considerable depth of academic knowledge, clinical skills and experience to be recognised, while also acquiring excellence in professional practice and service development, the core elements of a clinical specialist role.4 Physiotherapists who complete a Master of Sports Physiotherapy degree are typically entitled to use the Sports Physiotherapist title—automatically distinguishing themselves as clinicians specialised in sports physiotherapy. In many countries, the sports physiotherapy title is a prerequisite for most elite-level positions such as National Sports Institutes as well as national and Olympic sports teams. Furthermore, Master of Sports Physiotherapy graduates may be eligible to pursue the final stage training for ultimate clinical specialisation, such as the College of Physiotherapists in Australia. While tangible links between higher level specialisation and enhanced patient care are difficult to identify and demonstrate,5 a survey of Master of Manual Therapy physiotherapy graduates in the UK revealed that studying at master's degree level is a rewarding and ‘life changing’ experience.6 A master's degree resulted in the development of a new, clearer framework for thinking and understanding that extended into all aspects of life—clinical, managerial, emotional and intellectual.6

Barriers to postgraduate training

While the benefits of postgraduate sports physiotherapy education are clear, there are also potential barriers that need to be considered when designing and considering enrolling in such programmes. The greatest barriers reported in a survey of 425 physiotherapists in Canada were lack of time (21% of respondents), family commitments (19%), cost (12%) and geographical location (10%).7 It is not surprising that a lack of time was the greatest barrier given that the typical candidate for a clinical master's degree is the (busy) practising clinician and course duration can extend up to 2–3 years part-time. A further barrier to more self-directed informal postgraduate education is a lack of access to peer-reviewed journals, which often require expensive subscriptions to obtain full-text articles containing the latest research. In attempts to overcome the barriers to enrolment faced by busy clinicians, it is encouraging that an increasing number of master's degree programmes are being offered as distance-learning, online-learning courses with short blocks of intensive ‘in residence’ periods.

How can BJSM help?

As part of BJSM's commitment to education,8 we will review Master of Sports Physiotherapy courses around the globe to help busy clinicians become easily informed of course curriculum, duration and cost and particular focus areas and strengths. Many of the courses are predominantly being delivered online, opening doors to study at many different institutions internationally.9 We encourage institutes that offer Master of Sports Physiotherapy programmes to contact BJSM to facilitate potential review.


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  • Funding AGC is supported by a European Union Seventh Framework Programme (FP7-PEOPLE-2013-ITN; KNEEMO) under grant agreement number 607510.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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