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The "PT" Confusion

Updated: Oct 1, 2018

This has been a long time coming and to be frank, it really chaps my ass. First, before I offend anyone, let me clarify that I am not anti Personal Training.  In fact, a large majority of my personal and professional circles are comprised of trainers.  I love you!  What I do not love, is the confusion that using the abbreviation “PT” creates.  

Let’s take Susie Smith, PT as an example.  She could be a Personal Trainer or a Physical Therapist.  Legally speaking, the only professionals allowed to utilize the credential are physical therapists and physiotherapists.  The title can be quite misleading to the public.  Yet, I am not here to argue legal nomenclature.  What has really been itching under my skin is personal trainers performing actions like that of a physical therapist, and slipping outside of a trainer’s scope of practice.  The slips I’ve witnessed have been just over the line, and others have catapulted across the boundary and landed in another lane.  

I identify myself to be a manual physical therapist.  I use my hands primarily and a few tools like dry needling and cupping to manipulate soft tissue, connective tissue and joints.  Personal trainers do NOT have the license to manipulate soft tissue.  The exceptions to this are licensed athletic trainers and massage therapists that are also personal trainers.  However, the former can become a little dicey when it is unclear which hat the practitioner is wearing: massage or trainer?

It is extremely common to see trainers stretching their clients in commercial gyms.  In fact, I’ve seen massage tables posted up in a line on the gym floor.  How about the percussive therapy device trend like the TheraGun and Hypervolt?  They’re effective for modulating the neuromuscular system, mitigating pain receptors, reducing muscle spasm, and increase circulation; sounds much like physical therapy, rather than personal training.  

Bottom line: stay in your own line.  Recognize your level of training and your professional strengths and expertise.  Stay there.  Create a network of professionals whom you share a common philosophy with and refer out.  It’s simply a disservice to your client.  Act in the best interest of your client or patient.  The same goes for physical therapists.  While we have been coined the “movement specialists”, physical therapy education does not place emphasis on athletic performance.  In this case, once you complete the rehabilitation phase, refer out to a personal trainer or strength coach.  Refer out to nutritionists, chiropractors, naturopaths, etc. anytime you hit the PT boundary or are uncomfortable with your skill set and training.  There is no shame in that.  Hippocrates oath states “do no harm”.  Your client and patients well being comes first, always.  


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