It sounds to me that the client did not mention anything during the session and the claim of having been injured came out of the blue. I hope that you keep meticulous track of the exercises you do with the client and can check what you did. Did you do any new exercises or increase the weight on existing ones? Have you had the client for a long time and know of any problems that existed before? Is it a brand-new client? Check the medical history and your assessment.
Ask as many questions as you can about it. Many clients are very ready to blame exercise for any pain/ discomfort / injury when the incidence (if there was one) occurred during gardening or other activities.
What is the client asking you to do? Until you know more, show concern but gather your facts. If you have acted consistent with your scope of practice and proper precaution, there is nothing to fear.
Get specifics about the injury from your client and inquire about the other activities they have been engaging in.
I always remind my bootcampers and clients that active people have more aches and pains because they are active!
Keep your certifications current along with your liablilty insurance.
Make sure you have release forms signed by all of your clients prior to working with them and let them know that they will be sore and can expect it.
I think the best approach to take when a client complains of injury as a result of a session would be to:
1) Pull out the session notes for that session.
2) Gather as much information from the client as you can about the nature and the extent of the injury.
3) Cross-reference what you know about the injury with the exercises performed during the session.
4) Advise the client on RICE and proper use of NSAIDs if applicable and appropriate for the client.
5) Advise that the client see a qualified health care professional *refer!* immediately if the injury appears to extend beyond DOMS, which is commonly confused as injury for some clients.
6) Write a letter to the client’s physician(s) outlining the situation and what you think may have caused the injury. Provide the physician with as much relevant information as possible and request recommendations.
7) DO NOT have another session with the client until the issue is resolved and the client has been cleared by his/her physician for exercise.
By taking these steps, you minimize the risk of legal action under malpractice or negligence. You will also show your client how much you care! Don’t be afraid of staying in contact with the client’s physician(s). It shows more professionalism to address the issue head-on and work as closely as you can with the physician(s) in the best interests of the client than it does to have a client just go to the doctor and say “I got hurt in a session with my personal trainer.” Get out in front of the situation as much as possible, stay in contact with the client, and make sure that the client knows you’re there to help out in any way that you can *within your scope of practice*.
Marie-Pierre: Communication is the key here. Try not to be defensive, nor apologetic, but instead be direct and factual. Ask key questions as to what the client is experiencing so that this can help you, and the client, determine the difference between ‘injured’ and ‘post-exercise soreness’. I would recommend that the client go see his/her physician, and follow-up with you on the findings.
Did you have your client sign an informed consent? I ask this question because there ought to be wording in your informed consent that says there is a risk of injury engaging in physical activity.
I personally would want to know the mechanism of injury. How exactly did the injury occur? I would be curious as a consequence of Wolff’s Law. If it is truly an injury to the connective tissue and not DOMS then you ought to know that:
1. Connective tissue has a physiological limit. Your client may have very been engaged in a repetitive motion and finally reached that “physiological limitation” and injured him or herself. This is why I would want to know “how” the injury happened.
2. As fitness professionals we cannot ever know the integrity of our clients connective tissues and neither do they.
3. The injury could be a consequence of cumulative trauma.
4. Once you know the mechanism of injury, then you will be in a position to know whether you need to modify your program or keep it as it is.
All the best to you.