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Training the Client with Chronic Pain: Starting Out

4 Aug 2008

It’s common knowledge among trainers and fitness club owners that most clients join a gym and sign up for training to lose weight. But clients with common goals often have unique medical needs we have to consider when designing an appropriate exercise program. One of these medical needs include a wide range of chronic, debilitating pain conditions like arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and persistent back pain/sciatica.

According to the National Pain Foundation, one in four American–that’s 75 million people–suffer from chronic pain. Considering those numbers, it’s no surprise that many clients with weight loss goals or any other fitness-related goals may suffer from chronic pain. Working with someone who is all ready in pain can be a challenge when helping someone reach their fitness goals is supposed to provide a noticeable amount of discomfort! To best help these clients, a teamwork approach to training is needed.

Networking with the client’s health care specialist is key as the doctor will be most familiar with the condition as it affects your client. Even though there are specific symptoms attributable to individual illnesses, the degree to which those symptoms affect clients will vary. So each chronic pain sufferer must be trained on a case-by-case basis. Reading about your client’s condition will be helpful for basic knowledge, but speaking with your client’s health care provider and communicating with your client will give you the best background for exercise programming.

As with most clients, exercisers with chronic pain want to see results, and like with any client, in order to achieve results, measurable goals must be set. Setting quantitative strength or weight loss goals and working towards them may prove challenging when a client’s energy and exertion levels will vary from session to session. They can still be established, but the process of reaching those goals will call for a lot of patience and more often than not, frustration. To keep progress in perspective, it’s often helpful to include a qualitative way of measuring these goals. Keeping a journal is a good way to subjectively measure progress.

With a journal, your client can track any changes in energy and exertion levels they may experience during the course of your training. This way even if the scale hasn’t changed after weeks working together, your client will have noticed changes in energy, strength, endurance, and flexibility. Journal-writing will also provide you with feedback on exercises or techniques that may not be right for your client given their individual experience with their condition. Reviewing the journal regularly will provide a good alternate way for measuring progress and give you information you may need for program design to better help your client.

Next: Fitness Assessments for Clients with Chronic Pain

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