Every coach has had a client in need of additional assessment beyond the scope of a fitness professional. If you find yourself not relating to this statement, then I will assume you’ve been a coach for a short amount of time or you’re missing out on a great opportunity to enhance the performance and injury prevention of your clients. You could be the Rembrandt of fitness programming, painting perfect strokes of exercises with the appropriate prescription of weight, sets and reps, but that doesn’t stop injury from slashing through your metaphorical masterpiece. You’re going to want to have access to the right referral when this happens, right?
Having a close relationship with a practitioner is advantageous to everyone involved: you, your client, and the referral. The direct benefit is that the client gets the care they need in a timely fashion, either as injuries occur or because you’ve recognized the need for care to prevent injury. This will leave your client feeling well taken care of — when you acknowledge their needs and give them a clear path to resolving their issues by a trusted practitioner, you let them know their wellbeing is important to you.
How to Snag Yourself a Referral:
The relationship between you and the practitioner is important. It’s built on trust, familiarity, and reliability. The journey to obtain these three gems begins with experiencing the services of the practitioner yourself. Reach out to a potential referral and ask them out on a coffee date. On this date, familiarize yourself with their philosophies, their craft, what their services are, and if they have experience with treating clients similar to yours. Are you coaching a lot of ultra runners? Partnering with a practitioner that is either a runner or specializes in treating runners is a huge bonus and will give your referral credibility.
If sparks are flying between the two of you, strike up a trade so that you can experience their services and they can also experience your coaching. It’s a win-win opportunity for the two of you as a coach-client/doctor-patient relationship. Not only will you both learn more about the other’s craft, but it will give you the chance to understand how your work is set apart from your competitors. In a perfect world, the practitioner will find you to be such a sparkling example of a coach they will continue to be your client and will also send you their patients on the regular.
As a coach, it’s a high likelihood that musculoskeletal disorders are your number one concern. Why not refer to a specialist who can make these diagnoses? And if necessary, they can refer out for a more invasive treatment. One of the best referrals I can think of is a chiropractor, not only because I am one, but because I’m confident that chiropractors are equipped with as much diagnostic power as a medical doctor when it comes to musculoskeletal disorders. Don’t believe me? Check it out:
Chiropractors are specifically trained to diagnose and treat musculoskeletal disorders, which is reflected by the extensive number of hours in anatomy, physiology, X-Ray imaging, and orthopedics. In contrast, chiropractors are not trained to prescribe medication, perform surgery, or analyze mental disorders, which is reflected by the fewer hours spent in pathology, chemistry, psychology/psychiatry, and gynecology. An excellent chiropractor can recognize where their profession ends and western medicine begins, and the same goes for an excellent medical doctor.
So, what kind of chiropractor do you refer to? This is a confusing topic because there are SO MANY different kinds of chiropractors out there — gentle touch, activator, cracks and pops, traction devices, metal scraping tools, taping and wedges. How do you navigate all these options, especially if you’re not an expert in chiropractic methods? Any technique can work for a given person, whether that be a direct improvement or placebo effect. What you can do is choose a chiropractor whose techniques make sense for your clientele. Do you have an 80-year-old osteoporotic woman with neck pain? Find a chiropractor with gentle techniques. Have a postpartum woman peeing herself every time she jumps rope? Find a female chiropractor specializing in women’s health. Have an ultra runner with Achilles tendinitis? Soft tissue manipulation is the way to go. You get the idea.
Lastly, do you know when to refer? Perhaps it’s because I am a chiropractor and fitness coach hybrid, but my clients keep me abreast on all aches and pains. I am faced with filtering the information into one of two categories: note-worthy information worth further evaluation or temporary symptoms due to emotional stress, over-training, over-working, over…something. In either case, something must be done, whether it be altering the training or making the referral. To keep things simple, I’ve come up with a list of symptoms that are worth a referral to a chiropractor:
- Peripheralizing symptoms (symptoms spreading away from the site of complaint)
- Nerve pain (tingling, numbness, lack of control or muscle contractility)
- Muscle atrophy
- Tendinitis pain (pain near the tendinous origin/insertion of muscles)
- Muscular imbalance not responsive to training
- Persistent symptoms not responsive to training or limits training
- Sudden, acute and significant injury (sprained ankle, car accident)
- Clenching and grinding of the jaw (chiropractors can treat TMJ!)
- Your client wants to be preventative and stay ahead of the game
I want to acknowledge that these symptoms are primarily physical in nature and that having a referral for mental health is also important. You will come across clients experiencing depression, anxiety, eating disorders, trauma, rage, and the list goes on. These are issues that come with many layers and are best treated by a professional.
The relationship between you and a chiropractor is just one great example of a win-win situation that can have an immense impact on your career as a fitness coach. It is a ménage à trois of sorts, where all involved are left happy and satisfied. The patient feels taken care of and can continue to train with the coach. The coach gets to keep the client, gets their own chiropractic care, and receives referrals from the chiropractor. The chiropractor gets to display their amazing skills at healing people, gets their own fitness coach, and also receives referrals from the coach. If this sounds like a symbiotic relationship to you, then go out there and get yourself a chiropractor!