In a nutshell functional exercise therapy is a modern approach to improving someone’s ability to move freely, without un-necessary pain and with a reduced risk of injury. Movement assessments and exercise programs are tailored to an individuals ability to move and the activities they plan to perform. This means that a squash players movement assessment would look different to a gardeners movement assessment.
Exercise programs are adapted to cater for an individuals strengths and weaknesses so one squash players exercise program would look different from another’s. The functional therapy model is based on sound physics aiming to improve the body’s ability to cope with gravity, ground reaction force, acceleration and deceleration in an attempt to achieve perfect human motion.
Traditional physical therapies do not apply the laws of physics to the same extent as functional exercise therapy. The body works as one unit acting like a chain, as soon as we absorb force through our hands / feet it creates a chain reaction of motion and force distribution throughout the entire body. Weak links in that chain effect the body’s ability to create and distribute force efficiently. Pain or restricted motion can occur anywhere along the chain which has a ripple effect throughout the entire body. This is something overlooked in traditional therapy.
If a client presents with a painful joint or soft tissue that site is assessed and treated. This is a blinkered view of a larger picture.
Without understanding how an individuals body works as a unit you cannot give an effective treatment. It is not uncommon for example for foot abnormalities to cause low back problems or hip stiffness to cause shoulder injury. Regardless of the complaint the whole body should be assessed to understand the root cause of the problem.
In traditional joint assessments the therapist will base most of their treatments on or around a massage couch in a seated or lying posture. By putting the body into a non weight bearing environment you lose the ability to assess how well the body is able to create and absorb force.
It is essential that joint assessments should be performed in standing and non weight bearing environments in order to effectively identify weak links in the chain.
Traditional rehabilitation exercises for weak muscles are often in a non weight bearing environment and focus on the concentric (shortening) action of the muscle. Once again by performing exercises in a non weight bearing environment you limit or remove the body’s chain reaction to force.
This means an isolated weak muscle is not learning to work synergistically with the surrounding soft tissues and may lead to ineffective movement patterns being formed. In order for a muscle to work effectively it must first lengthen before it shortens and so the eccentric (lengthening) action of the muscle becomes the most important action in rehabilitating a weak muscle.
Traditional therapy tends to focus on one movement dimension despite the fact that we live in a three dimensional world. Human motion is divided into three planes Sagittal, frontal and transverse. Any particular joint or muscle could be fully functional in two planes of motion but dis functional in the third. Therefore if you are assessing and strengthening the body in only one plane of motion it can only ever be effective in that one direction.
The body should be assessed in all three planes for an effective treatment plan to be devised. Rehabilitation exercises should strengthen muscles and joints in all directions for a complete recovery and optimal performance.
When first working with a functional therapist expect a 5 star tip to toe assessment. You will be tested on your ability to demonstrate good range of motion at all joints in all directions, your ability to stabilise joints against force, your ability to create power / acceleration and your ability to absorb / decelerate forces.
Expect a wide array of techniques to be used to get results. You may experience gentle joint mobilisation, light tool assisted massage, deep fascial massage, taping techniques, various stretching techniques and whole body vibration. You will use a whole array of functional resistance equipment including suspension trainers, power bags, rip trainers, ViPR’s, kettle bells, dumbells, barbells and more.