Vail Daily column: If you have pain, see a doctor |

Vail Daily column: If you have pain, see a doctor

Ryan W. Richards
Make It Count

Personal trainers and strength coaches aren’t miracle workers. We don’t walk on water, and we certainly aren’t medical care providers. I work with people every day who live in chronic pain, and I don’t use modern imaging techniques or surgical knives to impact their wellbeing.

I get phone calls all of the time from people who are hopeless and desperate to find a cure for their physical pain or disability. I surely have compassion for these individuals as I have experienced chronic back pain for a large part of my life. The scope of this article is to help guide people who suffer from musculoskeletal pain or injuries towards recovery.


Suffering from musculoskeletal pain is symptomatic; a check engine light is popping up on your dashboard and you need to open the hood to thoroughly investigate the problem. Pain alters function and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Don’t be cavalier towards pain.

The worst thing you can do if you’re living in pain is to assume it’s just a minor muscle strain. Sometimes pain can be representative of a larger problem such as bone cancer. This is an outrageous unlikely scenario, but it suits the need to make a point. If you’re an active individual looking at a fitness solution to fix your joint pain, you will likely be disappointed.


Fitness professionals are responsible for shrewdly assessing your current physical state and then designing and implementing exercise strategies to improve physical function, form, capacity, and wellbeing.

Trainers aren’t doctors who diagnose and treat disease processes. We aren’t rehab specialists who are qualified to make decisions regarding musculoskeletal injuries. There is only one situation that I have experienced in which trainers have the responsibility to help a client with pain management. This is after the trainee has had a thorough medical evaluation first and is cleared to exercise.


Fitness solutions can remedy joint pain and other musculoskeletal problems when used in the right context. For example, I work with a man who had chronic back pain for years. He tried everything. He took prescribed schedule two pain medications. He was on a first name basis with the radiology department. He went to the Cleveland Clinic and other prestigious medical care facilities looking for answers.

By the way, his MRI results were insignificant. Everything looked normal. The doctors found no significant findings that would explain his back pain. He was cleared for exercise as long as it didn’t hurt.

I got my hands on him and his movement quality was terrible. He had been strength training incorrectly his entire life. At the age of 66, he had some serious compensations going on. Once I objectively screened his movement health, we began a few corrective exercises, and within a month he was living pain free. However, he went to the medical care providers first, not to the gym to try to fix the pain with core exercises.


On the other hand, I worked with a woman who had severe hip pain. I referred her out to a medical clinician first and foremost. The clinician found a few mobility problems but nothing severe.

We cleaned up her movement and she still suffered from pain. It turned out that exercise, even the right exercises, made things worse. Movement therapy and fitness programming didn’t work for her.

Pain needs to be addressed by a medical care provider first, not a trainer or high school gym coach. If the medical evaluation is insignificant, it has been my experience that pain often resolves with the right exercise selections performed with a judicious eye. Worst case scenario, if the medical staff finds a significant medical problem, options for treatment can be discussed. A win-win.

Also consider, injuries and pain management is multi-faceted. Sometimes people need a reset such as dry needling. Other times manual therapy such as chiropractic work or massage therapy is needed. Usually it’s both. So don’t always lose hope if you’ve tried dry needling and it doesn’t work. Keep looking for the right medical approach to address the problem. By the way, we have world class doctors, physical therapists and chiropractors all over the valley. I have my favorites, but most are as good as any. We live in a great place to be injured.

In summary, as you consider hearty living this year, always be responsible for your health and make good decisions. When in doubt, always get cleared by a doctor before addressing a fitness program. Everyone in the medical and wellness field play a holistic role in promoting peak vitality, just be sure to use the right professional for the job as you consider your health moving forward. Let’s keep talking!

Ryan Richards has a B.S. from Ohio University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the personal trainer at the Sonnenalp Golf Club and the owner of R2HP, a personal training company. Contact him at or 970-401-0720.

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