By Chris Byers, PT
Iwas recently asked, “What is the difference between exercise with a physical therapist and exercise with a personal trainer?” The question caught me by surprise and I realized that since both professions share many similarities, like a commitment to helping people improve their health and wellness through physical activity, there may be some confusion. However, there are some important and distinct differences with regard to the scope of practice, educational requirements, licensing requirements, and work environments.
Physical therapists attend physical therapy school for three years after their four-year undergraduate degree. They must pass a rigorous exam and are state board licensed, health care professionals. They have extensive training in anatomy and physiology of the body. That knowledge becomes the foundation of learning how to fix injured tissue in the body and the techniques that allow therapists to specifically address these injuries. Physical therapists are educated to be experts in the evaluation and treatment of musculoskeletal injuries.
Personal trainers are educated to be experts in how to improve strength, flexibility, and overall fitness. Some trainers are specialized in the improvement of human performance and athletic abilities. Personal trainers do not have to meet any minimum education level and there are no licensing requirements. Personal trainers should have a degree in exercise physiology or a related field and most of them are certified through NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine), ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) or ACE (the American Council on Exercise). I point out the difference in education requirements, not to minimize the role a personal trainer plays in helping people exercise and maintain a healthy lifestyle, but to emphasize how important it is to choose a personal trainer who is experienced and qualified.
My good friend, Todd Lowder, a certified personal trainer with over 20 years of experience, has recommended physical therapy to restore health or to get his clients back into the gym. Todd sums up the differences this way: “My experience in working closely with physical therapists is that therapy brings people back from an injured state to their baseline of health, and personal training can then improve or increase that baseline. We recommend that clients who have suffered an injury at home or work use physical therapy first to regain strength and health of an injured area before returning to personal training for fitness.”
As physical therapists, we go to work every day with the mindset of restoring health and function to patients. We have specific knowledge and expertise that we draw on to solve our patient’s health problems after an injury or surgical procedure. That knowledge then allows us to design a specific plan of treatment, which includes specific exercises, to restore their health. I recommend collaboration with a personal trainer who can then help the person progress through their exercise program, maintain their level of health, and continue on to achieve greater levels of fitness or sports performance.
If a personal trainer has a client that is experiencing pain or injury, they would refer them to a physical therapist for diagnosis and treatment of the injury. Todd says, “I work with numerous clients daily and success is measured by seeing the improvement of their fitness, overall health, and thus their life.”
For more information on any sort of pain or injury, you may contact Advanced Rehab & Sports Medicine at 309-664-9104 or www.advrehab.com. Their office is located at 135 N. Williamsburg Dr. in Bloomington. Free assessments are offered within 24 hours of contact for patients of all ages.
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