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The Importance of Functional Evaluation

In our previous article, Structural Adaptations – Not Just An Athlete’s Problem, we discussed structural adaptations and why they must be accounted for in both training and treatment plans. Clearly, structural adaptations have impacts from a sports performance and clinical perspective.  With that in mind, prior to treatment, our goal is to not simply assess from a structural standpoint, but to also assess functional capacity to determine if there is a functional capacity deficit (i.e. endurance, strength, balance, reactivity, dynamic posture control). It is my job as a clinician to choose the most appropriate evaluations to identify functional deficits. I choose not to limit my evaluations to x-rays or imaging and finding structural abnormalities. It should be evident that treatment based on the findings of imaging alone is flawed when you consider the enormous amount of false positive rates in asymptomatic people. This is why I couple structural evaluation with a functional evaluation that looks at motor patterns or movement, not just isolated joint range of motion or strength.

As a chiropractor, I tend to go against traditional approaches in how much attention I give to static body alignment compared to most of my peers. Reason being is that often times a patient can look a certain way (i.e. “dysfunctional”) in a static stance, but when asked to perform a skill, they nail it. This can be especially true of athletes. What I was able to learn over and over again during the course of my residency is that if someone can’t perform a certain movement (i.e. squat), it may be more practical to coach or educate them on better movement (i.e. motor learning) prior to isolating and treating joint or mobility “dysfunctions”. The reality is, if a patient or athlete is performing a new or unfamiliar movement, sometimes they simply lack the skill to execute it in an ideal fashion. This is the prime reason why I find functional evaluations invaluable in determining the best course of treatment.

When it comes to functional capacity, the assessment is intended to identify the relevant functional deficit of that patient. What is relevant to that patient will depend on their history. What areas are bothering them? What does their injury history tell you? What activities have they been involved in that have provided accumulated stress or strain to their body? This can provide insight into the adaptations or compensations patients may exhibit. As for athletes, it is important to remember: the higher level the athlete, the better they are at compensating. Despite being asymptomatic, those compensations will eventually catch up to them and become symptomatic. This will not only impact performance, but injury risk and longevity as well.

Once a functional capacity deficit is identified, the process of treatment can begin. For example, poor stabilization patterns during movement are a common functional deficit. Whether it is lack of stability during everyday tasks such as walking, carrying, lifting, etc., or sport-related skills such as kicking, throwing, sprinting or jumping, it’s important to understand that the functional capacity of each of these activities has different demands as it relates to stability. Our approach must be tailored to match the stabilization demands in order to normalize movement patterns and improve the load-bearing capacity of tissues involved. This is the goal of treatment. Perfection of movement is not the goal. Arguably, perfect movement does not exist. Consider elite athletes who practice their skills all day, consistently, year after year. Are they perfect with their movement 100% of the time? No. Movement has far too many variables to achieve perfection. The goal is better movement coupled with increased tissue capacity to better withstand overloads when movement goes awry.

As a chiropractor, I possess a license to manipulate and improve the function of the neuromusculoskeletal (NMS) system. I prescribe what I feel is necessary for treatment, whether it is joint manipulation, soft tissue/massage therapy, or exercise prescription. When it comes to the management of the clients and athletes here at GP, we perform functional evaluations prior to all training programs and chiropractic treatment. But the evaluation process does not end on day one. Evaluation is a continual process, from session to session. This is vital to monitor for improvement and knowing when to adapt the current training or treatment plan. Continual functional evaluation enables us to handle physical ailments appropriately when they occur. This is just part of the process of our Integrated Approach. It’s important to understand the rationale for a prescribed course of action. Thus giving both chiropractic and training services a better understanding of what to do for each individual to maximize results. So from a treatment perspective, it really isn’t just about knowing how to manipulate or perform ‘active release’ on muscles. Far too often people may know what they do; they may know why they do what they do; but do they actually understand the effects of what they just did? As a clinician, it’s important to understand the effects of the treatment you just provided and the reasons why they were provided.

Summing it All Up
Functional assessments provided at GP help to identify the most necessary intervention or treatment. It helps to identify the root cause of your symptoms and enables you to function better. Structural evaluations can be valuable, but functional evaluations should not be overlooked. There is important information to be gained from both. If you are experiencing unresolved issues such as joint pain, muscle tightness, or limitation in performing specific sport-related or daily activities, consider seeking out a clinician in your area who is credible and offers functional evaluations as part of their services.

 
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