Trainer? Therapist? What Do We Call Ourselves & What’s Our Role? Part I


A recent article in the Wall St. Journal titled Getting Fit Without the Pain got me thinking about a few things.  What, for instance does it mean to be a “personal trainer?”  How is that  job viewed by the public and medical professionals like surgeons and physical therapists?  Should some of us take on a different title?  Further, do our experiences in the fitness setting match our job definition?

Physical therapists are charged with rehabilitating injuries and post-surgical patients.  By various standards and regulations, personal trainers can’t claim to offer injury rehabilitation.  Personal trainers help people exercise and get “in shape.”  Personal trainers, by most definitions, are allowed only to work with people who are injury-free and completely healthy.

The Journal article states, “… fitness trainers shouldn’t attempt to treat, and certainly shouldn’t ignore, sports injuries, says Diane Buchta, spokeswoman for IDEA, a trainer organization. ‘We must refer those clients to a physician,’ she adds.

Injured vs. 100% Healthy

I’ll tell you as a practicing personal trainer/fitness professional/movement specialist–whatever my title is–that there is a significant gap or gray area between physical therapists and personal trainers.   I don’t think I’ve met a gym goer over the age of 25 (including myself) who doesn’t have some sort of strange ache or pain.  The vast majority of these people don’t  quite fall into the “injured” category.  They’re still active and their pain isn’t so severe that they’re prevented from coming to the gym and exercising.  I think most personal trainers have similar clientele.  If we were to turn away these folks we’d have no business whatsoever.

Still other clients I’ve worked with have pain that has proven resistant to physical therapy, chiropractic, acupuncture, drugs…  X-Rays, MRIs, neurological exams and blood work may all be normal.  These folks assumed they were injured and sought what we might call the appropriate care–but they’re still hurting.  Are these people injured?  It’s difficult to say.  Again I think I’m seeing a gray area, this time between “injured” and “healthy.”  Maybe we need to consider the issue of pain vs. injury.

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