Returning to Fitness Classes After Injury

As a physical therapist and group exercise instructor, I often witness the difficulty people have transitioning back to their fitness classes post-injury. Perhaps you finished physical therapy, but you don’t feel that you are quite ready to get back to full participation. Recently there has been a lot of attention brought to the gap between finishing rehab and returning to performance, and what can be done about it.

The Question: Does physical therapy fully prepare a person to return to performance?

The Answer: Sometimes.

There are many variables involved, so let’s break this down:

Education: what do we know? What is the difference in education of physical therapists and personal trainers/group X instructors? Is there really such a gap between the two?

Physical Therapists

There is no doubt whether or not physical therapists are educated, it’s more a question of how prepared they are to specifically prepare a patient for return to sports or fitness. Current physical therapy programs are clinical doctorates, ranging 6-8 years dependent on the school(s)/programs chosen. The amount of exercise-specific education ranges from one 4-credit class to a full 4-year bachelor’s degree. While there is plenty of opportunity for PT’s to further educate themselves regarding return to sports post-graduation, in the state of Massachusetts, there is no requirement for continuing education. So, are some PT’s equipped to prepare you to return to full performance? Yes, absolutely. Are all of them? Not necessarily.

Trainers/GroupX Instructors

Disclaimer: Where there may be some differences in exercise knowledge in physical therapists, the saving grace is a standardized licensure exam that everyone has to pass in order to practice. In the fitness industry, there is no regulation whatsoever. At Fit Life, you can rest assured that your instructors have reliable certifications. For the purpose of this blog, let’s assume your instructor has a good knowledge base and appropriate certification.

There are many levels of education in the fitness industry, ranging from an AFAA group exercise certification which is a one day event, to a CSCS (Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist) which can only be obtained by someone who has a collegiate degree in the field. The variation in education as well as experience of these professionals leads to a varied ability to help you to modify activity to fit your needs post-injury. Beyond standard modifications and regressions, what if something still isn’t working? Perhaps the client’s form isn’t up to standard, or perhaps something is causing pain. What does the fitness professional do?

You: Confidence, Psychology, and Fear, Oh My!

Depending on your injury, there may be more to returning to a group class atmosphere than your physical readiness. Perhaps you were injured in a fitness class. Or maybe it took months to get pain-free, and you fear that pain will return if you overdo it. So what do you do?

The “Solution”

The solution to this problem is multifactorial and varies from case to case. Here are some “do’s” and “don’ts”:

DON’T

  1. Accept any professional’s opinion that “you will never exercise again”, “never run again”, etc. Statements like these are almost never true, and based on very old science that says rest is the best medicine. Always keep moving! (Under the direction of your encouraging PT and trainer of course).
  2. Fear returning to exercise. Get back to it! You have a great support network in your exercise comrades as well as Team Fit Life.
  3. Exercise through pain. Always always tell your instructor. Pain is your body telling you something is not right. There are always modifications to be made.

DO

  1. Find a physical therapist that specializes in sports medicine. Just like any other profession, most physical therapists have a specialty area. You have the right to choose a clinician that is a good fit for you, and collaborate with him/her in the formulation of your goals. (For example, it is perfectly reasonable that one of your goals be returning to spin class pain-free.)
  2. Make sure your instructor is aware that you’re returning from injury. He/she may have specific instructions for you, or perhaps may just want to watch you more closely.
  3. If you’re having trouble or perhaps just want extra guidance, book a couple of private training sessions with one of Fit LIfe’s educated trainers. He/she can give you feedback and help you work through problems that may arise when you return to exercise. Going back to the first point, encourage your PT and trainer to communicate. It’s appropriate and even common practice to give one the card of the other and allow them to email and make sure everyone is on the same page in your rehab process.
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