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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/hr. without any insurance.  We do believe that the service that physical therapists provide is worth every penny, but most families simply can’t afford that.  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 is that they have a lot of specialized equipment that is geared toward rehabilitation and injury management.  On the other hand, personal trainers that have access to a gym like Anytime Fitness can use top of the line strength training equipment that can help with lean muscle development and weight loss.

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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 have to go through a lot more schooling for their degree, so their knowledge of anatomy and physiology is typically top-notch.  That’s also what makes a physical therapist so equipped to treat injuries and perform rehabilitation.  On the other hand, many trainers also have degrees in kinesiology and advanced certifications to treat special needs, such as a certified inclusive fitness trainer.  Most of our team has a degree or a handful of specialty certifications to work with the special needs population.

4.) Approach

When performing physical therapy for special needs, therapists take an isolated approach to the problem they are trying to fix.  As an example, if you sprained your ankle and you saw a physical therapist, they would do work on the ankle and muscles that connect to the ankle.  On the other hand, personal trainers take a full-body approach and work on all of the muscles in the body.  One is not necessarily better than the other – it just depends on what your goals are.

So how do you decide if you should hire a personal trainer or a physical therapist?  If you have insurance that covers physical therapy, we highly recommend that you invest in physical therapy.  If you are also interested in 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 benefits.  Contact us today to get more information about personal training.


Special Strong provides fitness and nutrition for special needs children, adolescents, and adults with autism and other disabilities. Through our online training platform, we also provide special needs fitness certification courses for personal trainers and service providers who want to work autism and other disabilities.

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