Picking either kind of PT is a serious decision that bears consideration of several factors. Not all PT’s are created equal by any means. They all vary considerably by experience, education, and desire for having their job. Many trainers out there do that job because they love helping people live healthier lives, some do it because they enjoy getting paid to lead a workout themselves, and others may want the job because it’s easy to write up workout programs and give them to a client to do while they spend the entire hour on their phone. For physical therapists, it’s not necessarily much different. Many of the people I knew in college who were pursuing a career in physical therapy first and foremost wanted the job because it can quickly pay 6 figures a year. Several others wanted the job because they love sports, however that makes sense in their own head. And this is not to suggest that you should not want a job for money. Getting paid is always a reason for having a job. But when the entire focus is on getting paid, this can quickly, and perhaps often, lead to less-than-optimal care for the patients/clients. And sooooo many people report that their physical therapist just simply put some massage cream onto their leg and left them to go tend to another client while their leg dried, or the therapist put them to work walking on a treadmill while the therapist went to work with someone else. Seriously, some clients have paid for a physical therapist to tell them to walk on the treadmill for 20 minutes while the PT tended someone else. It happens.
A PT, whichever one, is supposed to be a movement professional. Meaning that they help you to clean up your movement to help you live a healthier life. For personal trainers, they should be teaching you how to challenge your ability to move with good posture. Nothing they do should ever set you up for injury or chronic dysfunction. And for physical therapists, they should be helping you to improve your movement after you have already developed some sort of dysfunction, such as after surgery or an injury. Preferably, the personal trainer should be able to fix small-scale movement dysfunction in real time in order to prevent things from getting worse. And a physical therapist should be reserved for the bigger things that a personal trainer could not be reasonably expected to help with.
For example, if a client has a problem with their knees always buckling in when they squat, the personal trainer should correct that bad position, and be able to clean up mobility issues around their hips and knees that may have developed from that bad position. But, if that individual had been using the knees-in position for many years and was already destroying their meniscus and/or ACL’s, they they should probably seek a physical therapist who should be able to provide a higher level of care.
Lack of finding a quality PT however can lead to such an issue continuing. Let us say that you began suffering from knee pain, and decided you need either a personal trainer or a physical therapist. If the trainer just simply puts you through a workout program to help strengthen your legs but does not address your position and capacity for full range positions, then they are worthless. If you go to a therapist and all they do is help alleviate your knee pain without addressing how you move and why the pain may have developed in the first place, and therefore teach you how to manage and prevent the issue on your own, then that is also worthless. Always remember that it is YOU, the client, who chooses the PT. You never have to settle for whoever you first work with. And don’t assume that just because they have a piece of paper declaring they passed a test, that they necessarily are worth it for you and your health.
Here is a list of GUIDELINES to help you choose a PT. Either interview them a little bit or just simply pay attention to how they work with you. If any red flags go off in your head, get another PT. You always have that freedom and responsibility. This list is not necessarily set in stone. Always be sure to ask questions and learn why a PT may have you do whatever it is they do to you. They may have a legitimate reason for doing something that contradicts this list.
If your personal trainer (talking one-on-one, not group fitness) only leads a workout and you just simply follow along as best you can, and they never fix your movement or mobility issues, perhaps you should run away.
If your trainer only writes out workouts for you, and does not guide you through the movements, run away.
If your personal trainer does not have any focus on breathing and improving your capacity to breathe, run away.
If your personal trainer or your physical therapist does not teach you about how to move, run away.
If your PT does not workout, run away. And I do not mean work out with you. I mean they need to workout in their own time and be fit. They should practice what they preach. You can ask them how much they deadlift or press. If they can not respond to such a question, run away.
A strain is the result of violently overstretching muscles and tendons. If your PT diagnosis a strain and has you stretch it out, you might want to run away. Stretching something that is overstretched never does anyone any good.
Similar to #6, if you have super tight muscles and maybe nearby joint pain, and your PT has your strengthen those muscles, maybe you should run away. Weight training makes your tissues tighter.
Manners. If they treat you like crap, are bossy, and obviously don’t care really care for your well-being in any way, run away.
Undivided attention. If they are constantly on their phone or focusing constantly on something else that is not you, the client, run away and find someone else.
Professional attitude. Don’t put up with anyone being overbearing, creepy or flirtatious with you in the workplace. If they feel creepy, run away.