You see a lot of “functional movement patterns” mentioned on the StableMovement Physical Therapy website: www.stablemovement.com. So what is this “functional movement pattern” all about?
Our bodies move at joints, and it is the muscles that facilitate movement from a mechanical perspective. The brain sends out a message and nervous tissue conducts these as electrical signals to essential joints and muscles, which bring about precise movement within seconds. All this is so automatic to the point, that unless we keenly observe and bring our awareness to it, it is near impossible to make any changes to fine tune it.
A movement is functional when it achieves a purpose. For example, sitting to standing from a bed or a chair. We are all able to connect with this as we perform this several times in our day. Go on and try it, only this time, bring your awareness to the movement instead of doing it “automatically”. Notice how the trunk muscles fire first, stabilizing the spine and then the limb muscles fire in a coordinated pattern to allow the joints to have a smooth movement rising up? A symphony of orchestrated muscles firing; the static stabilizers, the dynamic stabilizers, the prime movers, the tuning muscles. The trunk stabilizes foremost, as weight is shifted forward onto the feet which will now serve as the base of support. The shoulder blades may be stabilized in order to push up with the arms, or the arms may not be used at all if one has good stabilization at the spine and strong legs to support. Next the hip and knee joints flex, the ankles dorsiflex, then hip and knee joints extend and elongation of spine takes place for an upright posture. The body’s center of gravity (weight)shifts upwards and translates back towards the heel for even distribution on the feet so that the body’s line of center of gravity falls within the base of support (the area covered by the 2 feet and space in between). You are now in the standing posture. Well done.
You just brought your awareness to this simple, taken for granted pattern. It is fun to do this in slow-motion, and then fast speed. What needs more muscle control? What needs increased muscle restraint? See how the 2 movements are alike, yet different in the muscular demands? Want to have some more fun? Break down the pattern at the joints at particular parts of the motion. Hold that posture for a few seconds. You will really bring awareness to the most active muscles during that posture in the pattern. For example: the trunk stabilizers, quadriceps, hamstrings, calf muscles, or back extensors.
The functional movement is actually made up of many such “dynamic postures” performed in series for a smooth movement pattern, much like a film is made of many frames of pictures. If any one of these dynamic postures is “faulty” due to lack of adequate joint range of motion or muscle tightness, the pattern changes or compensation at different joints takes place to complete the motion. This pattern change may be subtle and go unnoticed or ignored. Over a period of time, these changes accumulate until it reaches a critical point when the individual is aware of discomfort or even pain in the movement. That may be the point when you decide to see a doctor or health care professional, while all along, your body knows what is going on and all you need do is bring awareness to this pattern. Once you get a good grasp, this awareness translates into everything you do, and you start noticing subtle nuances in movement. In fact, that is what gymnasts, dancers, or athletes are doing as they train.
A physical therapist, having studied the norms of movement range for various joints (anatomy) and muscle action (kinetics) and analyzing human motion (biomechanics and kinesiology), simply applies this to your movement patterns. To change a faulty movement pattern, the movement is slowed down first to bring awareness to the appropriate joint and muscles in question. The pattern may even be broken down into its components, and other functional movements that employ a similar pattern may be used to train the corrected pattern. Once mastered, attention is focused on repetition and speed so that this relearned movement pattern is performed subconsciously, without thought-which indicates true mastering of a skill, kind of like being in the drivers seat in a self-driving car.
Ami Gandhi is a licensed physical therapist in the state of California. She is the owner of StableMovement Physical Therapy, a small boutique practice in San Jose that offers patient centered, one-on-one, hands-on physical therapy.