Functional Movement and Patterns of Movement

Functional movement is the type of movement that allows for a purpose (ability to do activities of daily living like getting in and out of bed, a chair, dressing, putting dishes away, or on a higher-level throwing, playing tennis, golf, yoga, running) and derives from the ability to create movement naturally from our neurological development. Starting as babies we have the innate ability from our brain to send signals through our nerves to our muscles to eventually progress from achieving head stability, rolling, crawling, walking and running. We need to be able to stabilize with one area of our body while the other moves. These patterns can be thought of as diagonal or rotational as we move in 3 dimensions. Unfortunately, when treating pain it is sometimes neglected to treat other areas that may be lacking mobility or strength while we treat a problem area.

As a physical therapist, we are taught the childhood development stages but I find when therapists treat adults sometimes we (myself included) don’t look at the whole picture and treat only the problem and not the dysfunctions that brought on the problem. And it’s not due to lack of education or care, usually, it’s time constraints and reimbursement dictated by insurances, but that’s a whole other story.

To provide some clarity to what I’m trying to describe and here are some layman’s terms for you. I defer to Gray Cook, PT founder of the functional movement screening tool.

“Based on natural perspectives of movement and movement control, many of these perspectives are so common we ignore them. We watch babies go through the progressive postures of growth and development in which they develop a command of one mode of movement and then tinker with a more challenging pattern. We watch them use different parts of their bodies for locomotion, not realizing they are stimulating better support and movement with every point of weight-bearing.”

“We watch sports and fitness movement without considering the many spiral and diagonal move­ments that go into each athletic form. We fail to note the subtle torso rotation or reciprocal arm action of an elite runner, but when these move­ments are absent in the less-polished runner, we immediately sense the awkwardness in the move­ment. We note the awkwardness and yet cannot identify what is lacking.”

My point being is our body is amazing, complex, and has an innate ability to compensate for dysfunctional movement patterns. A whole-body approach is most optimal to determine the source of our faulty patterns that can lead to natural wear and tear over time.

Here are some specific cross body, full function, exercises you can try (start with 10 reps on each side building up to 3×10 a couple times a week):

Double Leg Woodchop

Start in a wide squat, bring both hands to the outside of one foot. Stand and bring both hands overhead to opposite side keeping pelvis forward.

Single-Leg Woodchop

Stand on one leg, bring the opposite hand to the outside foot. Stand and bring arm diagonally across and overhead (like sheathing a sword)


Quadruped Upper Extremity/Lower Extremity Lift

Start on hands and knees. Lift right arm and left leg up into straight line with trunk keeping abs tight. Bring elbow and knee together and straighten back out

Log Roll 

Start on back with both arms and legs elevated to flatten lower back to the floor. In a controlled motion, roll to right side keeping arms and legs elevated. Return to back

Wall Angels 

Stand with back and head against a wall. Bring arms up to wall maintaining contact at wrists, elbows, and shoulders. Slowly raise arms overhead like a snow angel, not letting elbows, wrists, head or back come off the wall.

Thread Needle

Start on hands and knees. Elevate one arm up towards the ceiling, keeping weight even between knees. “Thread” the hand through the opening of the stationary arm and opposite knee

Side Plank Rotation 

Start on the side with legs stacked. Elevate hips to put weight on elbows and bottom foot. Raise top arm towards ceiling and “thread” under trunk between the stationary arm and foot keeping pelvis forward

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