Upper body biomechanics: how to test for flexibility, injury and mobility

Functional movement screening

Nick Grantham looks at a number of simple tests to assess the quality of your upper body movement and how to interpret the results

At a glance

In this article we’ll consider some key functional movement tests for the upper body. However, before we do, let’s just refresh ourselves about exactly what functional movement testing is and why it’s worth using as a screening tool.

As the years progress, our bodies undergo a number of mechanical changes induced by injuries, scar tissue, strength imbalances and weaknesses, loss of flexibility etc. There is no single reason for picking up an injury. Several factors can contribute, including previous injuries, gender, anthropometric characteristics, poor flexibility, decreased performance indicators such as vertical jump, valgus collapse during landing and deceleration, shortened reflex response time, postural sway and balance.

The result is that over time, our bodies don’t work as efficiently as they were designed to and our ability to move through the most basic and fundamental movements can become compromised. If this ability to move efficiently goes unchecked, there’s a strong likelihood that we will develop compensatory movement patterns, which can eventually result in lost performance and injury. However, by assessing the quality of some your body’s basic and fundamental movements with a ‘movement MOT’, you can help to ensure that you continue to move as efficiently as possible, therefore reducing your risk of injury.

One very simple and effective method of assessing your movement patterns is to use a functional movement screen (FMS), which consists of seven tests that assess mobility and stability as an indication of an athlete’s functional status and injury risk (1,2). The purpose of a functional movement screen is to:

  • Develop an athlete’s ability to move through fundamental patterns of movement;
  • Improve performance-related gross athleticism;
  • Improve sport specific skills and performance.

While more traditional screening methods are still important for identifying potential injury and movement problems, the FMS is a simple screening tool that can be used by pretty much anyone to evaluate function. The beauty in practice is that the FMS focuses on movement-oriented tests, is portable and easily administered (you can get all seven tests done in about 10 minutes) and it has good levels of reliability.

Benefits of FMS

  1. Improves functional and athletic performance;
  2. Helps reduce the potential for training and sports injuries;
  3. Provides a simple grading system to assess athlete/client movement;
  4. Can be used by both athletic/sports medicine and general fitness professionals;
  5. Identifies physical imbalances or weaknesses;
  6. Allows trainers to better individualise training programmes for better athlete/client results;
  7. Teaches the trainer and athlete/client to identify the difference between movement quality and movement quantity;
  8. Allows athletic trainers, strength and conditioning specialists, personal trainers and physiotherapists to identify current injury trends and stats as they relate to the prevention of non-contact injuries;
  9. Allows trainers to identify potential cause and effect relationships of micro-trauma as well chronic injuries in relation to movement asymmetries(1,2).

Scoring

The scoring for the FMS is very simple. There are just four possibilities for each test; these can then help identify where any potential problems lie and indicate how the athlete/client can best reach their goal(s). The scoring is as follows:

  • No problems – score 3 points
  • Issue (minor limitation in movement) – score 2 points
  • Major issue (gross limitation in movement) – score 1 point
  • Pain associated with movement – score 0 points (a medical professional should perform a thorough evaluation of the painful area)

The tests

The basic 7-test FMS forms an ideal basis for an athlete assessment. In part one of this article, we looked at three lower body tests. In part two, we look at four upper body tests.

Shoulder Mobility Test

Straight Leg Raise

Rotary Stability Test

Trunk Stability Test

Conclusion

When combined with the lower body tests described in part one, these upper body tests provide a simple and effective movement screen that can help you to improve your functional and athletic performance (or that of your clients) while at the same time reducing the potential for training and sports injuries. Once any imbalances and weaknesses have been identified you will be in a better position to individualise your own or your clients’ training programmes.

References

1) C Murphy Functional movement screening of NCAA Division II male and female athletes. MS Thesis, 2001
2) J Strength & Conditioning Coach 2007, 15 (4) 3-4

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