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What is Functional Movement? Why It's Important and How Physical Therapy Can Help

March 23rd, 2022 | 3 min. read

What is Functional Movement? Why It's Important and How Physical Therapy Can Help
Chris Brandt

Chris Brandt

Licensed Physical Therapist, PT, DPT // Director of Marketing and Sales // Certified Dry Needling Specialist // EW Motion Therapy Homewood

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If you have started physical therapy, you are probably learning a lot of new terms. It can be challenging to keep up with sometimes, especially with phrases like “functional movement.” What does that mean? And what does it have to do with you? 


It is essential to understand what functional movement is to ensure your therapy will improve the most important movements you do in your day. We make sure our patients at EW Motion Therapy understand functional movement and how their therapy is helping them move better. Our ultimate goal for this article is to help you know what movements are considered functional and how you can improve them in your daily routine, even if you choose not to do therapy with us. 


This article discusses functional movements, why they are important, how you can improve them, and how physical therapy can help. With this information, you can continue your treatment knowing you will substantially enhance your movement over time. 


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What makes a movement functional? 

By definition, a functional movement is a movement sequence based on real-world situations. They are any movements you perform in multiple planes of motion with multiple joints to help you accomplish things more efficiently. Functional movements vary from person to person, based on your age and the activities you pursue. But common functional movements include things like sitting down, standing up, walking, tying shoes, and bending down to pick something up off the floor. 


In other words, functional movements are the things you do during your day to help you accomplish essential tasks. Think about the movements required to put on your shoes in the morning. You have to be able to cross your legs, bend forward to put the shoe on, and balance while sitting without hand support, right? Each one of these movements make up the functional movement of putting on shoes. 


Why is functional movement significant? 

As the above example illustrates, functional movement is essential because difficulty with any of the parts required for a specific functional movement can cause great difficulty in managing crucial tasks. Knowing what tasks are difficult for you in your day can help you pinpoint the functional movements or parts of the movement you should work on.


If you have difficulty putting on shoes, it is much easier to think about the individual steps involved in that functional movement and pick which of those is the weak link in the process. Are you having trouble lifting your foot off the ground or crossing your leg? Depending on your answer to that question, you can develop more targeted strategies to improve those movements and accomplish those daily tasks more efficiently. 


What can you do if you have a functional movement deficit? 

When you realize you are having trouble doing something, the first step is identifying which functional movement you are having difficulty with. Then you need to answer the question of whether you have pain or whether you are a fall risk. If you have pain or think you might be a fall risk, consult your doctor. You should do this especially if your pain worsens over time, which could be a sign of a larger issue. However, suppose you do not have pain. In that case, a specialist like a physical therapist or occupational therapist can help assign exercises to improve those movements and get you moving better about your day.


How can physical therapy help improve functional movement? 

Now you know more about what functional movement is and some steps you can take to identify and improve any deficits. If you choose to see a physical therapist, they will be able to take functional movements and break them down into their simplest parts while developing a strategy specifically for improving areas that need it. They will do some kind of functional movement screen, possibly something like the FMS, to assess where you need to improve, and with your goals in mind, they will tailor a plan for you to move more efficiently. 


It can be frustrating when you cannot accomplish tasks, either simple or very complex, during your day. We strive to help our patients at EW Motion Therapy move better, using our physical therapy background and years of experience, so that they can feel and live better than before. If you are interested in learning more about our physical therapy services, fill out the Request an Appointment form on our website, and someone from our staff will contact you within 48 hours with your next steps. 


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