Personal trainers are highly qualified exercise professionals, but are they certified to prescribe rehabilitation or corrective exercises?
Very rarely are rehab exercises part of standardized PT certifications, so how can you be sure your trainer knows what they are talking about and will help your recovery, rather than potentially make things worse?
Well, good news, I worked in the city of London for over ten years, so I know a little thing or two about what trainers can and can’t teach, and in this article, I’ll be explaining just that so you can make sure you have full confidence in your PT.
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In a nutshell
Personal trainers are not qualified to treat, diagnose or perform rehabilitation exercises on an injury site as standard. In order for them to be able to offer this service, they need to have gained additional certification from recognized qualification providers.
Can every personal trainer provide rehab exercises or advice?
No, it’s fairly rare that you will find personal trainers in chain gyms that are qualified to the level where they are allowed to both diagnose and treat medical conditions.
Some may have biomechanics or postural correction certifications that allow them to treat and diagnose common ailments such as lower back pain and understand muscular imbalances that cause either pain or performance issues, however, this does not allow them to treat more serious conditions.
It is possible for trainers to advance their training and learn basic physiotherapy techniques to assist clients after surgery, but this is certainly not common, and not part of the standard personal training certifications that allow trainers to work with clients.
What kinds of injuries can most trainers help with?
Injuries are unfortunately very common when pushing clients to their maximum. Common injuries such as twisted ankles, sprains, and strains can be helped by a trainer without needing physiotherapy for the most part.
In the majority of cases, the trainer will assist the client by altering the workout routine to allow the client to continue training around the injury, whilst prescribing more gentle exercises for the affected area to promote recovery.
I often had clients that came back from a skiing trip with torn or strained cruciate ligaments (a common injury to the ligaments within the knee joint). The treatment for these types of injuries was based on gentle exercise to improve the strength of the muscles surrounding the joint in order to prevent injury in the future and to promote blood flow to the area to speed up healing.
This was of course, only for a mild injury and after the client had already seen a doctor or physiotherapist, and had been given the green light to begin gentle exercise again.
Are personal trainers and physiotherapists the same?
No, a personal trainer is certified to prescribe exercise to improve the function of the body and to help clients reach their fitness goals. A physiotherapist is more highly qualified than a personal trainer, as they will have gone through university and gained a degree, which is not needed to become a PT.
Not only will a physiotherapist be knowledgeable in musculoskeletal injuries, but they will also be able to treat and diagnose more complex issues, such as those of the cardiovascular (heart) and pulmonary (lung) systems.
They may even specialize in sports-specific injury rehabilitation and be certified to use techniques such as acupuncture and muscle manipulation to improve mobility and lessen pain after an injury has occurred.
Personal trainers, on the other hand, tend to be more generalized in their approach to training the body. They often will work several muscle groups per session and will not hone in on one specific area of the body to target for injury treatment or prevention, unless specifically requested by the client, for example, a client wanting to go skiing may ask for specific injury prevention training.
Can a personal trainer diagnose injuries?
It’s highly unlikely that a personal trainer will have the skill or knowledge required to be able to assess an injury to the point where they can accurately pinpoint the cause and prescribe the correct exercise to treat the condition.
Unfortunately, this does not always prevent PTs from trying to do so. I’ve seen plenty of PTs (and I’ll even hold my hands up to this myself), getting very excited when they have read about injuries and injury prevention techniques and see an opportunity to try to discover how a client has acquired an injury, and then to treat it themselves.
A word of warning, you should never assume your trainer knows what they are doing in this kind of situation, they must demonstrate clearly that they are fully qualified to do so. The last thing you want is to have an overly keen trainer prescribe exercises that they have hastily researched online in order the help. They may be doing so with the best intentions, but the last thing you want is to have your injury worsened by an underqualified trainer.
Are PTs insured to treat injuries?
Standard personal training insurance does not cover any kind of treatment of injury, it will protect both the client and trainer should an injury occur during exercise, but not if something goes wrong as a result of poor decisions made in regards to treating an existing injury.
Should an injury be worsened as a result of a poor decision from a trainer, they would almost certainly not be covered by their insurance, as it may be considered an act of negligence.
Whilst this is obviously bad for the trainer, it may be equally bad for the client. Not only would they have a worsened injury to deal with they would also struggle to claim compensation if required due to loss of earnings etc if the injury is bad enough to affect their ability to work.
Can personal trainers and physiotherapists work together?
Yes, and this is a fantastic combination.
I am lucky enough to have worked in several gyms where physiotherapists were available to the gym members. In every situation where a client stated they had an injury or I gained new clients that had pre-existing injuries, I would book them into a session with the physio to get an expert’s opinion on how to treat the condition most effectively.
This allowed us to continue training in a manner that would help the client reach their fitness goals, whilst taking on board the advice and expertise of the physiotherapist to make sure we worked the body hard enough around the injury site, whilst adding complementary exercises to treat and heal it at the same time.
There were plenty of situations where I would not have had the courage to take on a client with an injury and would have needed to pass them to another trainer. With the confidence I got from knowing that I had a fully qualified expert assisting our training sessions and exercise prescriptions, this was no longer an area of concern.
What kind of results can you expect?
Here’s the great news, the combination of hiring a personal trainer and having an expert physiotherapist to assist them can yield fantastic results, and they will almost certainly be achieved much more rapidly than using either on their own.
The other great benefit is that the results you are looking to achieve in the gym will not have to be put on hold whilst you recover, you will be able to reach both your exercise goals and recover from an injury at the same time.
There’s nothing worse than making fantastic progress with your fitness goals, only to have an injury cause a massive setback, there is no need for this.
Generally, a personal trainer will not be qualified to perform rehabilitation exercises or treat or diagnose injuries.
If a trainer suggests that they try to help you recover from an injury, or try to diagnose what has or is occurring, ask to see their certifications before putting your trust in them.
I hope this article has helped clear up some of the misconceptions about the grey area that is rehabilitation within the personal training space.
If you’re suffering from an injury at the moment, I wish you the speediest of recoveries.
Have a great day!
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