What is the Functional Movement Screen and why is it used in Physical Therapy?


Functional Movement Screen (FMS) and the Selective Functional Movement Assessment (SFMA) are two approaches that physical therapists use to assess movement patterns and identify areas of dysfunction in an individual. Both of these methods aim to help evaluate and improve an individual’s movement quality.  However, both ways have their distinct features and applications. In this blog post we will take a deeper dive into the FMS.

How the Functional Movement Screen works

The Functional Movement Screen is a quick assessment tool that asks the physical therapy patient to go through a series of movement tests.  Each tests screens for a different fundamental functional movement pattern utilizing a scoring criteria from 0-3.  A three would mean the test was performed correctly.  A two would indicate that you were able to perform the test correct with modifications.  A one would mean despite the modifications you were still not able to perform the test correctly.  While a zero would be scored if you had any pain during the test.  

While you are performing each of the tests, your score is based on if you could perform the movement pattern correctly, from head to toe.  The physical therapist is observing if you demonstrate any asymmetries performing the test on the right side vs the left.  If you performed the test unbalanced.  If you broke form trying to complete the test.  The physical therapist would then also provide the different modifications for each of the tests to see if and how your form improved.  In so doing your physical therapist is assessing where in your body the limitation is coming from that prevents you from scoring a perfect three.

Armed with that knowledge your physical therapist will then begin to create a specific plan of attack to correct your asymmetries by focusing on strengthening where you are weak and stretch out where you are tight.  Improve the areas of your body that need greater freedom of movement to get more mobility while also focusing on the areas of your body that are not stable enough to support your movement. Over time you would be retested and a new plan is developed based on your new scores.

Why the FMS is Important

Great! you did the test, have a score, and a new plan of attack.  You may be wondering why does it matter if your squat mechanics are off a bit if you can still get it done.  Well a funny thing is, there is a growing amount of evidence that points to the greater our asymmetries in our body the more likelihood we have of being injured.  In fact it is this research which prompted the creation of the FMS in the first place.  Trying to figure out a screening process that would quickly identify any asymmetries while simultaneously providing information on the cause.  The lower the score on the FMS the greater likelihood of an injury.  It stands to reason right?  The more difficulty you have performing a motion correctly, the more you are going to compensate.  The more you compensate the more you are going to put your body in a bad place at the wrong time.  The more your body is in a bad place at the wrong time the rate of injury increases exponentially.

In fact, the FMS is routinely used by the medical and training staff of the NFL teams during the combine and on player visits to get a quick gauge of that player’s injury risk.  Some teams have even passed up players based on their FMS score!

How do we Develop these Asymmetries?

Through life almost all the activities or motions we put our body through stem from the same basic movement patterns.  For example, lowering ourselves to sit in a chair or rising into a standing position after sitting is fundamentally a type of squat pattern.  Most of these fundamental movement patterns we utilize through life, like the squat, are aspects of our developmental milestones from when we were infants and toddlers.  Things like the ability to roll, crawl, stand, and walk.  

For the vast majority of us we cruised through each of those patterns on our way to the next and then continued to refine them in our childhood and beyond.  In fact, for the vast majority of us, when we were learning these new patterns and figuring them out our little bodies began to perform them absolutely perfectly!  I mean some of the best hip hinges I have seen in life are toddlers squatting down to the ground to pick something up.  If you don’t believe me just think back to your own children, or watch someone else’s, at the stage when they were running around wearing nothing but their diaper and then watch them stop, hinge, squat, and hang out while trying to pick something up off the floor to put in their mouth.  

As life goes on though, a funny thing happens.  We begin to watch how our parents move.  We watch how our Aunts, Uncles, older siblings, and other family members move.  We start watching how our friends move.  And we start to see different patterns, easier more efficient patterns, and we begin to adopt those patterns.  As time goes on that perfect squat we all did as toddlers turns into some bastard hybrid version, a cross between what we think is perfect mechanics and what feels less painful or tight.

Once we start playing sports we begin to practice new and different movement patterns.  In an effort to improve those sport patterns we practice more.  Certain sport specific skills only occur on one side of the body, for example throwing a baseball or football.  We begin to practice throwing, a rotational movement pattern, incorporating only half of our body over and over and over again while the other half does not get anything close to the same level of perception.  Over long periods of time, say little league to high school to college, that repetition will create asymmetries throughout the athletes body.  In fact some of the most asymmetrical people screened are professional athletes.  Those professional athletes that score poorly on the FMS tend to get injured more frequently.

Want to Try the FMS?

If your are an athlete who is often injured, just bogged down by continuous numerous soreness, or looking to prevent injury the Functional Movement Screen could be a great quick assessment to determine the areas you need to concentrate on to potentially reduce your risk of injury.  But the Functional Movement Screen is not just for athletes.  Anyone looking to prevent injuries or the aches and pains that life throws our way would benefit from getting a screening to help them move more effectively throughout life!

If you are interested in getting screened, feel free to call BeneFit Physical Therapy where we can get you started on an assessment today at either our Bridgewater NJ or Chester NJ locations!