Can a personal trainer treat musculoskeletal conditions similar to a Physical Therapist?

  • September 25, 2018

Physical Therapists: Can diagnose a neuromusculoskeletal injury without a referral from a physician. Once they determine what is likely causing your pain or injury, they can help you maximize movement by tailoring a personalized recovery program so you can become independent in your exercise program and return to your prior level of function. Physical therapists are licensed professionals. They complete a Doctorate Program, which is an average of 3 years after a completed bachelor’s degree.

Personal trainers: Cannot diagnose an injury or prescribe a rehabilitation program. If they attempt to do this, they are operating outside their scope and potentially breaking the law. “As a personal trainer, it is important to remember that your suggestions are complimentary to a primary health care physician. A personal trainer cannot diagnose a client as having a particular illness, or purport to treat or cure any disease. This constitutes practicing medicine without a license” (ISSA, 2018.) They are not licensed professionals but can have one or more personal training certifications (e.g. ISSA or NASM certifications), however they are not required to do so.

If you find a personal trainer who claims they can diagnose and “treat” an injury, (treatments include but are not limited to massage, prescribing exercises/stretches for the purpose of rehabilitation, instrument assisted soft tissue mobilization [e.g. “Graston Technique® (GT) therapy), or any kind of joint mobilization] they are likely practicing medicine and physical therapy without a license. Licensure protects the public. People can get injured (or worse) when individuals provide or perform medical services without proper training or knowledge. As consumers, PLEASE be vigilant of these practices.

Physical therapists, physicians and personal trainers can all play a positive role in a patient’s recovery by working together, within their scope of practice.

Reference: What is a certified personal trainer legally able to do? (n.d.). Retrieved September 19, 2018, from

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