The Fitness Zone

The difference between corrective exercise and physiotherapy

May 23, 2023 | by Network

Many personal training clients are plagued by musculoskeletal pain and dysfunction that affects their ability to exercise effectively. Personal trainers can help bridge the gap between physiotherapy and personal training by integrating corrective exercise strategies into client workouts, writes corrective exercise specialist Justin Price.


KEY POINTS

  • To meet client demand for therapeutic exercises that treat musculoskeletal pain and dysfunction, trainers need to learn corrective exercise techniques 
  • Both physiotherapists and corrective exercise specialists help clients alleviate muscle/joint pain and improve their movement capabilities
  • Physiotherapists typically treat a medical diagnosis, physical trauma or specific injury
  • Corrective exercise specialists do not diagnose or treat medical conditions: rather, they assess and evaluate for movement restrictions, imbalances and dysfunctions
  • PTs that add corrective exercise specialist training to their skills can enhance their reputation and business success by strengthening referral relationships with allied health professionals.

Clients plagued by musculoskeletal pain and dysfunction increasingly request therapeutic exercise strategies from personal trainers. Meeting this client demand requires trainers to have the ability to competently and successfully integrate corrective exercise strategies into client exercise programs. Trainers that possess these types of skills are called corrective exercise specialists and have typically completed a specialty certification in the area of corrective exercise. As professionals with valuable skills in a steadily growing area of the fitness industry, corrective exercise specialists are in high demand.

The difference between physiotherapists and Corrective Exercise Specialists

Both physiotherapists and corrective exercise specialists help clients alleviate muscle/joint pain and improve their movement capabilities. However, the manner in which these professionals enter a client’s health and fitness journey is very different, and the procedures employed when working with clients often differ.

Physiotherapists are licensed health care professionals whose services are typically used by clients to treat a medical diagnosis, physical trauma, or specific injury. Physiotherapy is also prescribed as rehabilitation after surgery, to help treat neurological conditions, chronic diseases and/or developmental delays in children (Health Direct Australia, 2021).

The job of a corrective exercise specialist is quite different. These types of professionals do not (and should never) diagnose and/or treat a medical condition. Instead, their specialty skills consist of assessing and evaluating a client’s musculoskeletal system for soft tissue and movement restrictions, imbalances, habitual patterns, and muscle dysfunction that may affect that person’s ability to move well, exercise effectively and/or perform daily activities (e.g., restriction of the lumbar erector muscles accompanying an anterior pelvic tilt, prolonged seated postures promoting excessive thoracic kyphosis, etc.). This specialised knowledge regarding the musculoskeletal system helps corrective exercise specialists design and implement corrective exercise programs to assist clients in beginning, resuming and/or continuing a fitness program without experiencing muscle and joint pain or movement limitations (Price, 2018). When a client’s musculoskeletal issues are not able to be addressed solely with appropriate exercises, or fall beyond a corrective exercise specialist trainer’s scope of practice, the client is referred out to medical experts for treatment.

Bridging the gap between physiotherapy and personal training

People successfully released from physiotherapy are normally excited by their reduction in painful symptoms and often look to increase their activity levels and/or take up a program of regular exercise. This commonly involves seeking out the help of a personal trainer to assist with their endeavours. 

However, while a person’s symptoms of pain may have subsided as a result of their physiotherapy sessions, their bodies often break down once they begin more dynamic forms of exercise (typical of most personal training/gym environments) as underlying musculoskeletal issues are compounded. In fact, research indicates that almost 90% of personal training clients report recurring aches, pains and movement dysfunction that affect their ability to exercise without limitations (IDEA, 2013).

“While a person’s symptoms of pain may have subsided as a result of their physiotherapy sessions, their bodies often break down once they begin more dynamic forms of exercise”

This is where the role of a corrective exercise specialist is extremely important. These professionals bridge this gap in care between physiotherapy and classic personal training/fitness programs by identifying and correcting underlying musculoskeletal imbalances before they become problematic and/or are exacerbated by robust forms of exercise. This is precisely why many personal trainers are also becoming qualified corrective exercise specialists — to ensure their programs are safe and effective for all client abilities, and to prevent clients dropping out due to musculoskeletal pain and/or injury.

Corrective Exercise Specialists are not physiotherapists

As you and your business adapt to meet peoples’ musculoskeletal and movement reintegration needs, clients may begin to ask if your services are the same as a physiotherapist’s. It is important that you clarify your role with clients from the outset with regard to assisting them with their musculoskeletal health and not step beyond your professional bounds as a corrective exercise fitness professional.

In addition to laws dictating that any professional must remain within their bounds of experience, education, training, and demonstrated competencies, confusing your role with that of a physiotherapist, and working outside your scope of practice, can harm your standing with clients and reputation within the fitness industry (Howley and Thompson, 2016). Aside from it being a requirement, the primary benefit of working within your boundaries as a corrective exercise fitness professional is that it enables you to practice, perfect and promote the unique talents you have with regard to evaluating the musculoskeletal system for imbalances, and assessing and correcting a client’s movements during physical exercise and activities.

Increased referrals as a Corrective Exercise Specialist

Doctors, physiotherapists and other licensed health practitioners are always looking for qualified fitness professionals to whom they can refer patients that need guidance with exercise (DiNubile and Patrick, 2005). According to research, two out of the top three reasons patients visit their doctor is for assistance with conditions that could be greatly improved by participation in a program of regular exercise (Huffington Post, 2013). Unfortunately, these medical professionals are often reluctant to refer patients with musculoskeletal conditions out of a concern that their clients’ problems might be made worse by an under-skilled personal trainer. However, when you have specialty qualifications and knowledge in musculoskeletal assessment and corrective exercise, and work within your scope of practice, medical professionals will feel confident in your abilities, which provides an opportunity for you to build strong networking and referral relationships with them (Bryant and Green, 2010).

“Medical professionals are often reluctant to refer patients with musculoskeletal conditions out of a concern that their clients’ problems might be made worse by an under-skilled personal trainer”

As you begin incorporating corrective exercise procedures more regularly into client programs, it is advisable to obtain a Corrective Exercise Specialist (CES) credential from a recognised and approved provider. This will advance your skills and can also result in more referrals from medical professionals. As your business network grows, you will also find that holding a reputable CES qualification makes it easier to refer clients to other specialists when their condition lies beyond your scope of practice.

The future of fitness

Personal trainers qualified as corrective exercise specialists know how musculoskeletal malalignments and imbalances of any kind can create pain, injury, and dysfunction throughout the body. They also know how to use the results of individual consultations and assessments to pinpoint clients’ exercise needs so they can start or return to a regular fitness program successfully. With this ability to meet clients’ musculoskeletal restoration needs, corrective exercise specialists may be seen to represent the fitness professional of the future.



REFERENCES

  • Bryant, C.X., & Green, D.J.  (2010). ACE personal trainer manual: The ultimate resource for fitness professionals (4th ed.). San Diego, CA: American Council on Exercise.
  • Howley, E.T., & Thompson, D.L.  (2016). Fitness professional’s handbook (7th ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
  • IDEA. (2013). IDEA fitness programs and equipment trends report. San Diego, CA: IDEA Health & Fitness Association.
  • DiNubile, N.A., & Patrick, W. Patrick. (2005). FrameWork: Your 7-step program for healthy muscles, bones, and joints. New York: Rodale.
  • Price, J. (2018). The BioMechanics method for corrective exercise. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Want to help clients with pain – and earn CECs online?

Justin Price, author of this article, is the creator of The BioMechanics Method Corrective Exercise Specialist Certification powered by Australian Fitness Network (Fitness Australia-approved). The BioMechanics Method is the fitness industry’s highest rated specialty certification with trained specialists in over 70 countries. To find out more about how to become a corrective exercise specialist in The BioMechanics Method so you can help people alleviate their pain, move better and exercise without limitations, click here.

Network
Network is an education subscription service that offers a broad range of upskilling courses for fitness and wellness professionals. Established in 1987, Network has played a pivotal role in the continual evolution of the fitness industry.

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