Personal Training or Physical Therapy for Seniors?
Jul 10, 2016
Do Active Seniors Need A Personal Trainer Or Physical Therapist?
Excerpt from AlterG
It’s important to maintain exercise, especially as you age. As physical therapists, you may be seeing more active seniors looking to stay fit after injuries or orthopedic surgery.
But active seniors who are keen on keeping their bodies fit may be signing up for gym classes or doing routines that are no longer safe. Think of all those Zumba classes or senior weight training classes. Who knows if the instructors are aware of their medical conditions and past injuries.
This can lead to serious injury.
Since active seniors have different exercise needs than a younger population, it might be difficult to determine what services would best serve them. Can they be well-managed by a personal trainer? Or are they better off with a physical therapist?
The Role Of Personal Training
Personal training is a structured workout program that allows clients to exercise on a regular basis under supervision to maximize results.
Personal training is safe for senior clients, with a growing number of personal trainers’ clients coming from the senior population, according to the American College of Sports Medicine Certification.
The Role Of Physical Therapy
To highlight where personal training ends and physical therapy begins, Karen explains her work with Silver Sneakers, an exercise program designed for active seniors.
Physical therapists don’t participate in the fitness activities themselves. However, they do rehabilitate and educate patients who are hurt and return them to their regular routine.
“We will transition people in and out of the Silver Sneakers program,” Karen explains. “So, if they become injured and can’t participate, they’re referred to our clinic to restore their ability to safely return.”
“Our clinic has found Silver Sneakers to be a great program to keep people moving,” she adds.
For weight loss, strength building, and fitness maintenance, a personal trainer may actually work best for seniors.
“That is not what physical therapy is,” Karen explains. “We are not here for individuals to perform a daily workout.”
“We provide a skilled treatment plan designed to restore dysfunctional movement and return them to their previous level of function, inclusive of a daily workout routine to maintain the gains made during therapy,” she says.
Issues With Pain And Mobility
Seniors who struggle with pain, balance, and coordination, and who need rehabilitation are best suited for physical therapy.
Personal trainers are trained to help patients improve their fitness level, not heal injuries. The danger in relying solely on a personal trainer for exercise is if they push a patient too far beyond their limits, says Karen.
“Which is what personal trainers are designed to do, but there needs to be a balance between pushing beyond one’s limits with control and purpose,” she adds. “Not pushing through injury.”
Karen recommends seeing a physical therapist when there’s an existing condition that makes exercise hard.
“For example, if they have any kind of asymmetry in their body, such as one leg being weaker than the other,” Karen explains. “Or if they have arthritis and swelling in their knees or other joints that limits normal movement patterns.”
Karen says that physical therapy would also benefit patients who have back issues that send pain down their legs with certain exercises or at rest.
It’s A Team Effort
Personal trainers are no replacement for physical therapists and vice versa. However, both have important roles to play in maintaining health as people age.
To decide if a patient needs a personal trainer or physical therapist, take into account their fitness level, their health (if their bones or muscles are injured), and their goals (fitness or rehabilitation).