You know you are moving but are you moving functionally? This is the question we should all be asking ourselves. Yes, you can get yourself from point A to B, but were you using the right muscles at the right time? Frankly, we would not have to ask this question if we didn’t have a lifestyle that was so much against the design of our body. You’re probably thinking that you don’t even know what the right muscles are and that is the last thing you would even wonder! Whether you exercise daily, run marathons, do yoga, work behind a desk all day, ride a bike once in a while, this blog is for you! Some move more than others but we all move to get from the house to the car, to pick up the piece of paper we drop or play with the kids; doing these minuscule things dysfunctionally over time can result in pain and repetitive injuries. Let’s discuss what functional movement is, how to identify if you are moving functionally or dysfunctionally, and what to do about it. This blog is to teach you how to self assess.
What is Functional Movement?
Every time you move you do so either functionally or dysfunctionally. Functional movement is movement by design, the movement that is the same in the human race despite our many differences. Every baby in the world develops movement following the same progression of muscle development and movement patterns starting from around 3 months of age. From rolling over to when we start walking at around 12 months old we develop the muscles needed for movement as well the neurological pathways that allow your brain and the rest of the Central Nervous System (CNS) to communicate with your musculoskeletal system.
Babies move the same way because we are all programmed the same way- there is no discrimination there! This is like blinking, we just don’t think about it. This is similar to the smartphone you have. You can delete all apps you added, reset the phone and still, there are apps you cannot delete. Functional movement is that app that could not be deleted but since human beings are highly flexible, if there is a need, functional movement becomes dysfunctional to accommodate that need.
Sitting too much, working behind a computer, staring down at a phone screen, and playing one-sided sports move us further from how we are designed to function. Overly tight muscles, overly stretched muscles, underactive muscles, weak muscles, loss of range of motion, restricted joints, and misaligned joints, are some of the signs of dysfunctional movement that may not cause pain at the beginning but lead to chronic issues later on.
How does Functional Movement Become Dysfunctional?
Let’s do a quick review here:
The brain controls every function in our body but it ultimately has two goals:
- For you to live a long life and reproduce since the survival of the species depends on it.
- To make your day safe and as pleasant as possible, given what you throw at it.
Let’s say you work behind a desk for 8+ hours a day, starring down at a computer screen typing away. Being in this unnatural position day in and day out, your neck assumes this new forward position (even when you’re not at the computer), and your hip flexors become shortened from being in a consistently flexed position so that when you’re standing your pelvis is stuck in an anterior (forward) tilt position. With your neck and pelvis in unnatural positions, the rest of you needs to adapt so that when you’re walking you don’t fall forward from your heading being too forward for example. All the adaptations that need to take place for you to be able to walk without falling forward, is how pathological movement develops in this scenario. Your brain does what it needs to do in order to give you what you want, given the lifestyle conditions, now you have completely rewired yourself to function this way.
Now that you know your movement is dysfunctional, knowing how dysfunctional you are is the beginning of the solution.
How Do I Do Functional Movement Self Assessment?
The DIY version of the assessment will include self imaging and shoe evaluation.
Start your evaluation by having someone take pictures of you. You want a couple photos standing from a side (lateral) view and front view.
Here is what you need to look for:
- Head tilt to one side or the other
- Equal shoulder height
- Nipple level symmetry
- Tip of fingers to be symmetrical
- Is chin parallel to the ground
- Hands forward or right by your side
- Rib Cage flare
- Neutral pelvis compared to anti or poster tilt
- Plumb line *
*A plumb line is a perfectly straight line (as if you tied a weight to the end of a rope and hung it from the ceiling) and in good posture, we would like to see 5 points fall on this plumb line. On the side view those points are the ear hole, the tip of the shoulder, the bony part on the side of your hips (greater trochanter), middle of the knee, and bony part on the outside of the ankle. On the front view, they are the straight line on the eyes, the top of the shoulders, the side of the chest below the breasts, the bony parts of the pelvis, and the top of the ankles. See the pictures above as a reference and make sure you look for any deviations.
When you’re done evaluating your posture in the photos, grab a pair of well-worn shoes, preferably about 6 months old of daily wear.; flip them upside down and evaluate the bottom using the guidelines in the video below.
If you checked a lot of things that were off, and you want to do something about it before experiencing pain and injuries, read the section below.
What are Functional Movement Exercises?
So you found a couple of things that are out of place, now what? You may be thinking that you need to stretch the area that seemed imbalanced and strengthen another that seemed underdeveloped, but STOP, and here’s why..
Remember we talked about developmental stages of movement and how it is the same in all babies all over the world. If that is how we are to first develop what it takes to move, and now we have a dysfunction in movement, it only makes sense to go back to the basics and compare our movement to what it automatically should be to find the areas of fault.
Babies do not use dumbbells,bands, or straps, and they don’t stretch or do weight lifting. So why would we need to do that in order to fix the dysfunction? If isolation of the area of pain and injury in treatment worked, then why do the aches and pains keep coming back?
I will just briefly mention the very obvious, the neurology behind posture, and refer you to my podcast on that. But do know that the brain controls all functions of the body and when it comes to movement and sensation, it has a blue print, a map called Homunculus that we are all born with but it gets more detailed with movements from about age 3 months to about 16 months of age. It is therefore essential for effective care to address the weak areas of the brain involved in posture and balance so this blueprint of movement leads to the correct neurology and command for movement. This is what Postural Neurology is all about.
With minimal movement, unhealthy lifestyle, and/or postural deviations due to injuries, this map gets modified. This map is like the musical note in front of the conductor of a concert. When the musicians, knowing how to play their musical instruments either don’t get a chance to play or don’t know when to chime in or phase out, the concert does not sound good- it becomes dysfunctional. Isolating a musician and working on that will not create a beautiful concert. This is why your lower back hurts (let’s say) because it’s not only doing its job but the job of your lower abs and glutes as well.
Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization (DNS) is the default movement (baby movements) poses that positively reinforce the ‘musicians’ playing together and practicing their concert. This, along with postural neurology exercises, what it takes to have functional movement is present, and proper mobility is resumed.
We do not need to reinvent the wheels. Let’s do what has worked for generations after generations since humanity began and resonate with what nature has provided us automatically. Remember you are the designer and director of your own life, so design and direct it the way you wish to live it,