What Is an Athletic Trainer?

Medically Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on July 16, 2023
3 min read

Athletic trainers prevent and treat injuries for all active people. They differ from personal trainers who usually work with their clients at home or in gyms.

Athletic trainers often work closely with athletes, but they aren’t limited to one type of patient. They can work in a variety of job settings, including primary care and outpatient rehabilitation.

Athletic trainers provide primary care, injury and illness prevention, wellness promotion and education, emergency care, examination and clinical diagnosis, therapeutic intervention and rehabilitation of injuries and medical conditions.

Athletic trainers are often confused with personal trainers, but their education, skillset, and job functions are different. Athletic trainers must get a bachelor’s or master’s degree, and specialize in patient education to prevent injury and re-injury.

Athletic trainers have a wide range of skills and have immense education on athletic care. They are versatile and focus on wellness services, manual therapy, musculoskeletal conditions and injury and illness prevention. 

Athletic trainers focus on injury prevention, and will show you the proper way to use exercise equipment. They may also apply tape, badges, and braces for preventative measures or as treatment. They have to be able to recognize, evaluate, and assess injuries to provide immediate care.  

Athletic trainers’ day-to-day responsibilities can look different based on the professional setting they’re in. They can be found in many locations including: 

High schools 

They work to prevent and treat athletic injuries that occur in practice or during games. They may also teach. 

Sports medicine clinics

They provide treatment and rehabilitation. They may cover high school or college athletic training as well, and lead workshops about sports medicine education.


They cover practice sessions, home and away games, and supervise educational opportunities for athletic training students. They may also teach athletic training classes.  

Professional sports teams

They work year-round with professional football, basketball, hockey, baseball, and other teams. 

Athletic trainers are highly skilled health care professionals. Their education follows a medical-based model. 

The process of becoming an athletic trainer includes: 

  • Getting a bachelor’s degree. The most common majors are in athletic training or exercise science. 
  • Graduating from a Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Trainer Education (CAATE)-accredited program. 
  • Passing the Board of Certification to become a certified athletic trainer. 

In addition, 70 percent of athletic trainers also have a master’s degree. When athletic trainers also teach at school, they will get a teaching license or certificate.  

Athletic trainers focus on treating and preventing injuries. They’re trained to evaluate the situation and decide on the proper action to take. 

An athletic trainer can help if you have these issues during a workout or game: 

Abdominal pain

Your trainer can check you out and determine the source of the pain.

Chest pain

If you have shortness of breath, tingling, tightening or pressure around your chest, let your trainer know right away. They can figure out if the pain results from something serious, like a heart attack, or less worrisome, like acid reflux.

Dislocations or fractures

If you’re injured during an activity it could result in dislocation -- when the bones that make up a joint are separated -- or a fracture (break) in a bone. Your trainer can assess the situation and stabilize the injury, treat you to prevent infection, and get you ready to see a doctor. 

External bleeding

Athletic trainers can clean and bandage bleeding wounds. They can also show you how to properly care for the wound and help it heal. 

Limited range of motion

Sometimes a healing injury or nerve problem limits the way our joint moves. An athletic trainer can create a plan of action to get your range of motion back. 

Head trauma

Let your athletic trainer know of any head trauma right away. They can determine if you have a concussion and need immediate medical attention.

Loss of consciousness (without head trauma)

Dehydration, low blood sugar, or heart irregularities can lead to fainting. An athletic trainer can figure out the cause and help you create a plan to prevent it from happening again.