Physical Therapy for Special Needs

Physical Therapy for Special Needs

With the services we provide, we are often asked “what is physical therapy for special needs and how is it different than personal training?  Many special needs clients have both an outside physical therapist and a personal trainer with Special Strong.  We often work in conjunction with therapists to provide a better experience for our clients.  Here are some of the similarities and differences between physical therapy for special needs and personal training for special needs

1.) Insurance

One of the many benefits of physical therapy for special needs is that it’s often covered by insurance, making it very affordable for families.  While this is a great benefit, we’ve found that most insurance companies only cover a limited number of visits, putting families in a difficult position when they need more therapy.  Physical therapists can cost as much as $300/an hour if you are without insurance.  We do believe that the service that physical therapists provide is worth every penny, but most families simply can’t afford that.

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With personal training, insurance is taken out of the equation, and a private pay price is used to render services.  This works well with most families’ budgets and allows the client to receive more personal training sessions than physical therapy sessions.  Additionally, there may be ways to write off personal training at the end of the year for a tax deduction (be sure and speak with your CPA for more information).

2.) Strength Equipment

When it comes to equipment, there’s a big difference in what personal trainers and physical therapists for special needs have.  An advantage of having a physical therapist (PT) is that they have a lot of specialized equipment. All of which they gear toward rehabilitation and injury management. In most cases, they have set treatment options, will only work with you for a short period time (depending on your insurance), and little to no training on how to work with the special needs population. The goal of a physical therapist is to rehabilitate the person as quickly as possible, allowing them to return to their daily lives.

In most instances, those with special needs often need more than physical therapy for special needs. They need a place they can go to on their own time. More importantly, they want to work with a personal trainer who is in it for the long haul. While the PT may have specialized equipment, personal trainers have access to gyms like Anytime Fitness. These gyms are chock full of the latest and best fitness equipment available. Working out in a gym can build lean muscle and help with weight loss.

3.) Knowledge

When it comes down to knowledge, both personal trainers and physical therapists for special needs have a lot of knowledge about how the body works.  However, physical therapists typically must go through seven years of college and MED school, earning their Doctorate along the way. They must also pass a series of state and national boards (tests). So, so their knowledge of anatomy and physiology is typically top-notch. However, their knowledge about physical therapy for special needs is probably very limited. All of this is what makes a physical therapist so well equipped to treat injuries and perform rehabilitation.

Many personal trainers have degrees in kinesiology, many have advanced certifications in providing training to those with special needs. This group would include some that are certified inclusive fitness trainers. An inclusive fitness trainer has taken the time to learn how to develop fitness plans for those with a variety of special needs. Among these special needs are; autism, Asperger’s, ADD/ADHD, cerebral palsy, down syndrome, obesity, spinal cord injuries, stroke victims, and many more. They will be able to create an individualized fitness plan for each client and then be there to help implement it.

Many of our team here at Special Strong have a degree while others have a handful of specialty certifications in fitness and working with special needs kids and adults.

4.) Approach

When performing physical therapy for special needs, therapists take an isolated approach to the problem they are trying to rehabilitate. For example, if you have sprained an ankle and visit your physical therapist that is what they will work on. Their goal is to rehabilitate the joints, tendons, ligaments, and muscles around your ankle. Beyond this, they do nothing for the rest of your body beyond the usual, “How are doing today?” greeting.

On the other hand, when you go to see your personal trainer, they take everything into account with a full-body approach to your physical health. Rather than focusing all their attention on one group of muscles, their form of physical therapy for special needs is to work on all muscles in the body. By doing this, they can tweak your personal fitness program as your needs change. This total body approach is great for your overall health and fitness.

While one of these approaches is not necessarily better than the other, you have to stop and consider what your goals are. Are you looking for short-term focused rehabilitation therapy? If so, a physical therapist might be the best choice. But if you have long-term health and fitness goals, you may find a personal trainer might be the right choice to meet your needs.

How Do You Choose Between Personal Training and Physical Therapy for Special Needs?

So how do you decide if you should hire a personal trainer or a physical therapist for special needs people?  There is no easy answer to this unless you are injured and have insurance that covers physical therapy for special needs. If you are fortunate enough to have insurance that covers physical therapy, then we highly recommend that you invest in physical therapy.

If you are looking for a long-term relationship with someone who will help you with fitness training and overall fitness, a personal trainer is a perfect choice. However, if you are looking for someone who can help you with strength training, weight loss, or cognitive improvements, then you should consider doing physical therapy in conjunction with personal training.

In our opinion, the only time you would want to do physical therapy as a stand-alone service is when you are suffering from a recent injury, post-surgery, or need rehabilitation.  With either service, you can’t go wrong and will see the benefits.  Contact us today to get more information about personal training.



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