Penn State Mont Alto PTA program takes proactive approach to athlete health

Campus Alumni Board funds three students in physical therapist assistant program to complete Functional Movement Systems certifications
Group photo of faculty and students in front of Penn State Mont Alto athletics banner after the Functional Movement Screen.

Students and faculty from the physical therapist assistant program, along with Penn State Mont Alto student-athletes, pose after their first Functional Movement Screen, a new initiative and partnership between the PTA program and Mont Alto Athletics.

Credit: Penn State

MONT ALTO, Pa. — The physical therapist assistant (PTA) program at Penn State Mont Alto has implemented the Functional Movement Screen, a new health screening initiative for athletes. Screening for movement dysfunction and/or pain allows professionals to make informed decisions about an athlete’s individual training program. With financial support from the Penn State Mont Alto Alumni Board, three PTA students have completed the Functional Movement Systems (FMS) Level 1 and Y Balance (Y-BT) certifications, in exchange for their service in providing screenings to student-athletes on the Mont Alto campus.

“For all health and fitness professionals working with athletes, our shared priority and responsibility is to protect athletes from avoidable harm,” said Amanda Snider, an assistant teaching professor in the Mont Alto PTA program, who is one of six Functional Movement Systems Fellows in the United States. “The PTA program at Penn State Mont Alto is piloting a student-athlete screening initiative that supports the physical therapy profession by promoting the PTA as a cost-effective health care professional for group screening and data collection.”

According to the Nationwide Children’s Hospital, there are an estimated 25 million scholastic and another 20 million community-based youth programs in the United States. Organized youth athletics begin as early as age four and intensify through high school and college. This robust offering of programs presents a tremendous opportunity for kids to move, but it also introduces a higher risk of injury.

In January 2024, PTA students completed their first athlete screening on campus, with the goal of performing screens on all Penn State Mont Alto student-athletes annually.

“This opportunity is a huge asset not only for our PTA students to gain this unique experience, but also for our student-athletes to receive a high level of care while participating in intercollegiate athletics for Penn State Mont Alto,” said Staci Brennan, Mont Alto’s director of athletics.

In addition to the work taking place on the Mont Alto campus, the PTA program has started investigating cost-effective, proactive strategies to identify deficits and offer movement solutions that impact the musculoskeletal health of athletes within the central Pennsylvania region, with possibilities to partner with local sport camps, high schools and community centers. 

“Most students pursue the associate of science in physical therapist assistant degree because they hope to be part of an individual’s recovery following an injury,” said Renee Borromeo, professor-in-charge of Mont Alto's PTA program. “With rising education costs, this two-year degree option provides a strategic first step toward a financially sound career for those looking to join the rehabilitation field. Being able to offer the unique experience of performing the Functional Movement Screen adds another layer to what our students are taking with them from their time in our program and makes them even more of an asset to future employers.”

For more information about the Penn State Mont Alto associate of science in physical therapist assistant degree or the new Functional Movement Screen, contact Borromeo or visit the campus' physical therapist assistant degree page.

In the last 35 years, Penn State Mont Alto has transitioned more than 800 graduates of the associate of science in physical therapist assistant program into clinicians who serve their community. Accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education, enrolled students are required to take five semesters of study, including three full-time clinical practicums, all of which prepare graduates to take the national examination for certification/licensure as a PTA. With small-class sizes and individualized attention for students, the rate of employment within one year of the graduate receiving their certification is 100%.