Fitness Solution to a Medical Problem?


“Never provide a fitness answer to a health question.” ~ Gray Cook, PT, author of “Movement.”

In the last 10 years of my fitness career, I have had many people — gym members, friends, and family alike — approach with me with questions like, “I have pain in my (body part). What exercises I can do to (strengthen, stretch) it and make the pain go away? What they have asked me is a fitness solution for a medical problem, which is pain, a signal in your body that tells you something is wrong.

One of the biggest mistakes trainers make is that they take their word for it and immediately suggest exercises that target the painful or dysfunctional area with isolation exercises that either stretch or supposedly strengthen that body part. If someone has low back pain, there are many causes, such as arthritis, degenerative disc disease, disc hernia, bone cancer, or ligament tear. Without understanding the person’s medical history and a thorough medical evaluation, there is no way that any professional — medical or fitness — should make an assumption and provide a general treatment or exercise recommendation.

Photo courtesy of Somerset Medical Center.

If someone brings up a medical question and wants a fitness solution, the most responsible advice a fitness professional can give is to tell the person to seek a medical evaluation from an appropriate medical professional (orthopedic physician, chiropractor, etc.) before continuing to exercise or conditioning.

Once the cause is diagnosed, treatment is performed and the patient is discharged, the patient should return to the fitness professional for a movement screen to determine if there are any weak links in the body that can increase their risk of injury or pain. If there is no pain but movement dysfunction and asymmetries exist between the left and right sides of the body, the fitness professional should be able to work with the client to prevent the injury and pain from reoccurring.

The fitness professional should also consider any instructions recommended by the physician, chiropractor, or physical therapist that the client may or may not do during a specific time frame. By providing feedback to the client’s progress to the medical professional demonstrates not only the fitness professional’s care and aptitude, but also establish a good relationship between both professions. This will increase the likelihood that the medical professionals will refer their patients to the fitness professional after discharge.

Keep in mind that that even with proper and responsible rehabilitation may not correct all painful problems associated with movement, Gray Cook mentioned, author of “Movement” and co-founder of Functional Movement Systems. Some people will have pain with movement because of a structural problem or chronic damage, like loss of cartilage in the knee or reduced space between the vertebrae. Thus, the fitness professional’s client would need exercise guidelines collaborated between the fitness professional and the medical professional.

If you have pain, address your question to a proper medical professional. If you want to improve strength, flexibility, speed, or a sports-specific skill, consult with a proper fitness profession. This will help both parties make better decisions on how you can reach your goals without getting injured — again.

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