Recently, as my wife and I were looking for a new home, we found what seemed to be the perfect house in the perfect neighborhood. As we prepared our offer, we asked a contractor to come over to assess how much it would cost to renovate the kitchen. Interestingly, when he got there, the first thing he did was walk around the perimeter of the house. Then he walked through the basement. Before he even looked at the kitchen, he gave us his assessment: find another house. The verdict? The house had a poor foundation, and fixing the kitchen would do nothing to change that.
While I was disappointed, I completely understood. His assessment mirrored what I do every day in the office. At the beginning and end of every visit, we guide our patients through a movement assessment called the Selective Functional Movement Assessment (SFMA). We do this to determine our patient’s capacity of the most basic and foundational movements. Can they flex, extend and rotate their head, neck and torso with full range of motion and without pain? Can they stand on one leg without falling over? Are they able to squat? These basic movements lay the foundation for the more complex movement patterns that occur in life and in sport. When the simple movements are dysfunctional, everything built on that foundation will be suspect, and only a matter of time before repetition and load lead to injury. Similar to my prospective home, only time stands in between a problematic foundation and a major problem that needs fixing.
Thankfully, the basic movements of the human body can be much easier to evaluate and fix than the foundation of a house. To differentiate between the two, let’s talk about why these building block movements might be suboptimal. Every joint, muscle, ligament and tendon in the body has a set of responsibilities, all of which are modulated by the brain. When something isn’t quite working properly, the brain seamlessly creates compensatory survival strategies to help us make up for the deficit. The issue occurs when we perpetuate that survival strategy over time, and adopt that strategy as our new normal. When these patterns become problematic, they essentially require a reprogramming or reboot back to normal. That is where we come in.
For example, the glute max is a strong, powerful muscle. It has a main responsibility to extend the leg- a very important component of every step we take. When the glute max is weak, the brain calls upon helpers to help facilitate that movement. Oftentimes one of those helpers is the quadtratus lumborum, or QL. The QL is a stabilizing muscle in the low back, which can also assist in leg extension. The QL can help the glute max out in the short term, but since the QL is a stabilizer and not a powerful mover, it tires quickly. This compensation strategy often results in a weak, tight and tender low back and QL. This compensation can be a common causes of idiopathic low back pain, and can be very easily uncovered and treated with a movement assessment and subsequent treatment.
This example is just one of countless survival strategies that we see every day in our office. When these strategies have been perpetuated for too long, you are left with painful, weak and tight muscles that alter the function of joints, ligaments and tendons. This altered functionality can most definitely be caught by a movement assessment after an injury has occurred. However, the best part is that this it can be caught by a movement assessment BEFORE it ever turns into a debilitating injury. Screening movement on a regular basis can help to reduce the risk of a previous injury recurring, or an injury ever happening in the first place. Once the building block movements are acceptable, other factors like strength, endurance and coordination become significantly more important. Similarly, a new kitchen in my prospective house would only be acceptable if we had first fixed the issues that presented in the foundation of the house.
As Gray Cook states, “Our bodies are miracles capable of unbelievable durability and resiliency, with an amazing performance and physical capacity.” When our foundational movements are without limitation and pain free, we can fully grasp how truly amazing our bodies can be.
David Velez, DC