// Common injuries: where to refer your clients for injury advice

by Paul Wright

Personal trainers and group exercise instructors are regularly asked by their clients and class participants for advice in relation to injury management and rehabilitation. While it is important for fitness professionals to have some knowledge in this area, it is also vital to know when to refer the client to a suitably qualified health professional who can diagnose the problem and plan a comprehensive rehabilitation program.

This topic brings up a number of issues in relation to injury management and rehabilitation advice given by fitness professionals, such as:

• Is the fitness professional qualified to give injury advice to the client?
• What exact level of knowledge lets the fitness professional make diagnosis and rehabilitation decisions that are legally defensible?
• Is the fitness professional putting themselves in legal danger by answering the injury related question at all? (i.e., what would happen if the advice turns out to be incorrect and the client suffers major problems by following the fitness professional’s advice).
• Should the client be immediately referred to a more highly qualified health professional – assuming one is available (note: a lack of referral options is a common problem in rural and more remote areas where the fitness professional may be the highest qualified health professional in the region).
• Who should the fitness professional refer the client to for help?

Although each of these questions could be the basis of a full article, it is pertinent to first focus on the criteria that fitness professionals use to select an appropriate health professional for referral.

Fitness professionals should look for the following characteristics and signs when choosing who to refer their
clients to:

The most obvious place to find a great professional would be in your own list of contacts – look at who you use for
your personal injury advice and what characteristics you like about them and their business. If you are new to the area
and don’t have your own contact list, then ask other fitness professionals in your club or area who they recommend
and why they use them over other health professionals. This will enable you to develop your own ‘selection criteria’ that you can then use to evaluate prospective experts.

As the owner of physiotherapy clinics inside Fitness First health clubs, one of the most common complaints I hear
from trainers who have sent their clients to health providers, is that the client was told to ‘stop exercising’ to recover
from their specific complaint. While there are definite medical situations where exercise needs to be stopped
completely, the majority of people (especially those with musculoskeletal problems) can still effectively exercise
provided certain guidelines are in place.

It is your responsibility to ‘guard’ your clients’ hard-earned fitness gains
against the overuse of the ‘rest and take a few weeks off ’ treatment program used by many, less activity-minded
health professionals. This is why you need to find health professionals that are ‘fitness interested’, i.e., the health professional appreciates how important it is for your client to maintain a regular exercise program, is hopefully an active exerciser themselves, and will do whatever they can to assist you and your client to modify their routine or program to not
only allow recovery from your specific problem, but also maintain their hardearned fitness level.

You will most likely have a range of health professionals that are members of your club already who understand your goals and know what it is like to be injured and unable to exercise fully. You could do worse than ask every member what they do for a living and keep track of the health professionals in your current circle of contact.

There is no doubt that one of the keys to selecting a great health professional is their level of knowledge and professional qualifications. However, this must be balanced with the health professional’s level of ‘care’ and interpersonal skills. I learnt years ago that the majority of clients ‘don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care’. Certainly look for health professionals with the necessary skill and knowledge to assist your clients with their individual problem, but also bear in mind that your client may spend many sessions with this professional and that they should therefore also exhibit care, empathy and good humour.

My final tip is to actually attend the physical examination with your client (with their permission, of course). We encourage all referring fitness professionals to actually come along to the initial session because it allows us to
work more closely with the trainer and also gives the trainer the chance to see what we are doing and take a greater
part in the solution. You may also learn something by sitting in on the session and develop a stronger rapport with
the health professional involved – a real win-win situation.

As the referring fitness professional, make sure you are kept up-to-date with your client’s progress via a letter, phone
call or e-mail that acknowledges you as the primary referrer. This will allow you to keep abreast of your client’s
condition throughout the rehabilitation process. At my clinic we guarantee that all referring fitness professionals receive
a follow-up call or letter the day we see their client – and if possible we attempt to speak to the trainer personally about
the modifications that need to be made to their clients program. This personal chat is relatively easy if the fitness
professional is working in the same facility as the clinic, but may be harder for some fitness trainers, who will have
to work hard to develop this relationship with the health professional.

Selecting a health professional to refer your clients to can be a daunting task, but by following the tips above you will uncover a tremendous and varied range of highly skilled and caring health experts that will get your client back on track in no time.


Paul Wright, BAppSc (Physio), DipEd (PE)
Paul is the owner of Get Active Physiotherapy at Fitness First in St Leonards (Sydney) and Kotara (Newcastle) and can be reached on 1300 891011. Paul has launched a new website for health professionals wanting to increase business skills and knowledge. Visit www.healthbusinessprofits.com to download The 7 Health Business Profit Tips and to register for his upcoming ‘Health Business Success Principles’ seminars. Network members receive a special seminar rate of only $37 by using the code NET2010 when registering at www.healthbusinessprofits.com

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