Fitness Trainers Must Practice Within Their Scope Of Care

Plain and simple – personal trainers are not physical therapists, and visa-versa.  While both are highly honorable professions that help individuals overcome or mediate injury and ultimately quality of life they are addressed differently and from multiple aspects .

Frequently we hear from some of our clients confusion as to how these two professions are differentiated, and can be structured to work together.

Ask any physical therapist what their pet peeve is about fitness trainers, and they will quickly answer the concern they have regarding fitness trainers who try to act in the capacity of a physical therapist.

While there are many competent fitness trainers, both the art and science of  diagnosing and rehabilitating  individuals with acute or chronic injury to muscles, ligaments or bones (musculoskeletal) is best left to the physical therapist.

At our training center, some of the more common misconceptions clients have expressed include:

  • Base Knowledge – The Physical Therapist must receive a college degree, and satisfy core course prerequisites prior to entering a physical therapy training program in which they can receive either their Doctor of Physical Therapy Degree (DPT), Master of Physical Therapy (MP) or Master of Science in Physical Therapy – MSPT.  The aspiring physical therapist must then pass a state licensing exam prior to working with patients.  The personal fitness trainer, may very well hold a collegiate degree,  however it does not necessarily have to be in the field of fitness training to prepare for and pass a national certification exam specific to fitness training.
  • Clients vs. Patients – The physical therapist refers to those requiring rehabilitation as “patients.”  The fitness trainer, refers to their group of customers as “clients.”
  • Billing and Coverage – For some people, physical therapy is a covered cost under their insurance plan.  The number of visits might be capped at a certain number  per year, or until the physical therapist deems treatment as having been successful enough to return a patient to pre-injury function.  Personal training does not have a CPT (Current Procedural Terminology) code, that can be submitted to insurance companies for reimbursement; the most common method by which the physical therapist is paid.
  • Tools of trade – The physical therapist will frequently use a number of treatment modalities to stimulate muscle or circulation responses.  These include, but are not limited to Electrical Muscle Stimulation, Ultrasound, TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) along with application and instruction for usage of splints, braces and prosthetics.

The Harmony

In a world where doing what is best for the individual who is trying to achieve the healthiest body possible is the end goal, a harmony must exist between the physical therapist and the fitness trainer.

It is incumbent upon the fitness trainer to fully understand what is within the scope or care of his ability.  Equally, a physical therapist who understands what is best for his or her patient, will suggest that for maximal  post-therapy treatment, their patient might achieve more strength and function by working with a fitness trainer who understand injury or rehabilitation.

That patient who is complaining of pain that radiates “down their legs” during the fitness training session,  receives optimal treatment from the fitness trainer wise enough to move them onward to a physician specialist or physical therapist who through more comprehensive diagnostic tests can determine to what extent the patients care should escalate.

Equally, the overweight patient seeing a physical therapist for knee pain knows they have received the best care from the physical therapist who upon completion of a therapy program, recommends that patient see a trainer with a history of successful weight loss amongst clients – ultimately taking more stress off of the knee and its surrounding structures.

Regardless of a persons level of injury there is a correct “sequence” that care should progress.  For the fitness trainer, it begins with identifying the type of medical professional best suited to treat a particular injury.  For those with injuries, it begins with knowing the role each professional plays, in the circle of care.








Bill Victor

Bill Victor, M.S. Exercise Science is the President of Victor Fitness and Performance Training. He and his team of trainers are dedicated to bringing the fitness experience, and the self-confidence that comes with it, to the citizens of Clark County. He can be reached through or his email,

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