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Movement screening: what it is & how it helps athletes

Heard of functional movement screening (FMS) and movement competency screening but unsure about what exactly they are and how they can help triathletes? Top Kona age-grouper and physiotherapist Alison Wilson, and sports performance specialist Dr. Matt Kritz PhD explains all you need to know

The main outcome of movement screening is insight; insight to you as an athlete and the ways in which you can look after yourself, become more efficient and to what level of training is best suited for you. 

What is movement screening?

Movement screening is the process of analysing movement tasks for the purpose of understanding how an individual uses their body. The movement strategies they adopt, are or will, contribute to their physical performance or mechanisms of injury. The body was designed to move a certain way based on how the bones, ligaments, tendons and muscles are arranged. How an individual moves this complex system can be influenced by a lot of things, namely age, activity level, type of activity, sustained postures, limb length, previous injury, weight, etc. When someone is interested in training, increasing training, or loading movement (i.e. to get in shape, improve sport performance, make activities of daily living easier), it has become more common for sports and health professionals to try to understand how an athlete may handle this load, hence screening movement first.

A variety of movement tasks can be put into a battery of assessments and called a movement screen, however, movement screens are typically made up of fundamental or primal movements that are found in sport, sport specific training and activities of daily living.

‘The overhead squat as part of the Functional Movement Screen. I question what ‘function’ this movement has in triathlon, as you can see from the position we, as triathletes, are predominantly in on the bike. However, this movement does highlight many ‘weak links’ and ‘compensations’ in my movement, of which require further screening tests to isolate and address. Word of warning! Please do not overhead squat like this…this is a great example of poor movement competency'

The overhead squat as part of the Functional Movement Screen. I question what ‘function’ this movement has in triathlon, as you can see from the position we, as triathletes, are predominantly in on the bike. However, this movement does highlight many ‘weak links’ and ‘compensations’ in my movement, of which require further screening tests to isolate and address. Word of warning! Please do not overhead squat like this…this is a great example of poor movement competency'

The reason is that fundamental patterns which are, squatting, lunging, single leg squatting, upper body pushing and pulling, and trunk bending and rotating are the foundation of all movement. Take a moment to visualise how these fundamental movement patterns exist in your everyday activity; for example, when you bend down to pick up something (Bend pattern) or squat down to get ready to lift something heavy (Squat pattern) or swing something (Rotation pattern) you are performing those fundamental patterns to some degree.  

The more physical you are the more often you will perform these patterns and, therefore, how you perform these patterns becomes even more critical. By having you perform movement tasks that represent each of the fundamental movement patterns, the sports performance or sports medicine professional can better understand your movement skill, restriction, or compensation. These terms can be wrapped up into one, known as Movement Competency (Kritz et al. 2009).  Simply put, it looks at how you load your joints and control the complex interaction and activation of your muscles to enable locomotion and movement through a variety of static and dynamic postures.

What is the purpose of a movement screen?

As a physiotherapist, much of my caseload is filled with patients who have already sustained an injury and require help to alleviate their symptoms and return to sport. The injury has already occurred, the demand placed on that soft-tissue/joint/bone has exceeded the tissues’ capacity. Demand can be acute in the form of a crash, or chronic in the form of subtle deviations in technique that puts stress on the soft tissue, and over time translates to injury.   Predominantly, of the people I’ve asked ‘why have you been to physio?’ the top answer I hear is ‘I hurt my…’ or ‘they treated my…’. There appears to be a misconception that physiotherapy solely rehabilitates injuries and has no role in helping prevent them.

I am a strong believer in ‘if it isn’t broke, why fix it’. Based on human anatomy, strength and conditioning principles, human biomechanics, simple physics and research, sports performance and sports medicine professionals are able to detect areas which may predispose you to injury (Hewett et al. 2015., Myer et al. 2010). With movement screen information you can explore the potential reasons behind any apparent movement incompetency and get an understanding about how your movement competency may respond to exercise (increased volume, intensity or load). This can also be used as a performance enhancing tool, identifying which patterns can be more aggressively loaded and which require more development.

The purpose of a movement screen is NOT to diagnose, because a screen is not comprehensive enough to tell you WHY you are moving the way you are. Nor is it to make you fearful of injury or to ‘make you move normally/properly’. Assessing an injury and assessing ‘human movement’ are not the same thing. Assessing an injury is reactive; the injury has occurred so the sports medicine professional needs to try and understand why, and what is required to optimise healing. Assessing how a person moves is proactive; it provides valuable insight into your movement strategies which may predispose you to injury if the intensity and magnitude of loading you are currently experiencing continues.  

In elite sports, movement screening is often performed pre-season alongside other fitness tests with the aim of preventing injury and ultimately, guiding an athletes’ training program to ensure the right interventions are being prescribed and they are training within their competency and capacity.

Continue reading our guide to movement screening: what it is & how it helps athletes (2/3)


 
 

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