What is a Functional Assessment?
A functional assessment is a physical assessment, to expose potential underlying causes for a patient’s physical concern. The concern, or symptom, might be muscle tightness, pain, or that they have trouble with an activity of daily living (chores are a popular culprit).
It is difficult, and time consuming to test for every potential cause of symptoms in the limited time of a session, so the functional testing is a very clever way to trim down this time, and expose the problem area so we can begin testing it sooner for the specific problem that the patient may have.
How is a “screen” different than a “test” and how does it work?
Think about it like this: you don’t get your eyes tested at first, you get them screened, and if you fall below a certain range of acceptable variability, then you get them tested to find out why, or if you have a problem. If you test before you screes, there will be false positives.
Functional assessments will likely have you go through 7-10 different movements (just once or twice), including but not limited to a squat, lunge, push-up, and breathing patterns. You may notice that you are moving a lot of different muscles and joints at the same time, and this is how your clinician is able to speed up the assessment. For example, let’s say that you are experiencing knee pain. This can be coming from just about anywhere from the low back to the foot, for a variety of reasons that may include weakness, inhibition, pinched nerves, anatomical variation, or ligamentous or muscular structures being too tight or too loose. (Yes, things can be too loose, and it’s a real problem. Stay tuned for my post on the value of stretching.)
A functional assessment, in the hands of an experienced clinician will expose the problem area that needs to be tested. Then, just like your eyes, we can then begin testing to find out what is the likely cause of your symptoms. It can be surprising to find out that after getting test after test to help you explain your low back pain, that your Achilles’s heel was your weak ankle, or a tight hip, or that old knee injury that never quite went away. This is the concept of regional interdependence, and the well informed clinician can no longer say to their patient that back pain is connected to stiff hips, or a weak ankle, but they may say that in your case, it is the likely explanation.
After finding out what issues you might be having, your clinician will then prescribe you appropriate exercises, and may recommend a course of treatment.
The functional assessment appointments are advised for patients who want more than anything to get to the root cause, or gain a better understanding of what is going on with their body, and are willing to take part in an individualized therapeutic exercise program.
Looking forward to helping you move and feel better,
Taylor Laviolette RMT