I don’t know what happens in your house in August, but in mine we inevitably spend the majority of the last month of summer getting ready for the kids to go back to school. This includes clothes shopping, getting school supplies, and of course the kids’ annual check-up. The check-up always leads to the conversation of when my check-up will be.
This year, I am getting a jump on that conversation by writing an article on the importance check-ups. We as adults tend to think “I’m
OK” or “I’ll make that appointment next month when things slow down.” We tend to downplay the importance of out physical health until something big happens. Check-ups should be a priority, and you may want to consider adding on more check-up to your yearly calendar.
We are supposed to have our teeth checked by a Dentist twice a year, have a cleaning, and maybe some X-rays. We get reminded to floss, brush well, and take care of any issues that arise. Your teeth are important (how else can you enjoy that delicious steak just off the grill…mmmmmm steak—a Homer Simpson voice just went through my head—but I digress. Sorry, its grilling season) and this check-up is essential for good mouth health.
We all know the benefits of our annual check-up with our primary care physician includes height, weight, blood pressure, blood work for cholesterol, risk of diabetes, and a host of others, and an update to our medications. This is a crucial step to staying alive for the foreseeable future.
While dental and physician check-ups are imperative, it feels like something’s missing. With these appointments, we can eat and we will continue to breathe and stay alive, but is that all that’s important in life? Or do we need to MOVE?
What about a Musculoskeletal Functional Movement Check-up?
According to a United States Bone and Joint Initiative report, 126.6 MILLION people are affected with musculoskeletal conditions. That’s 1 in 2 adults in the US (not to mention those with chronic lung and heart conditions). Untreated musculoskeletal issues can cause chronic pain and loss of function. Joint mobility deficits lead to a life of arthritis, degenerative disc disease, and tendinopathies. Strength and stability deficits put you at risk of ligament injuries, tendinitis, and decrease overall quality of movement.
But there is hope…if we all have a musculoskeletal and functional movement check-up, we can stop the degradation of our bodies before it gets out of hand. If our joints move well, our muscles are strong enough, our balance is good, and we can control our movements, we can stop our cycle of pain and the path to physical dysfunction.
So, it makes sense that your musculoskeletal system and movement patterns need to be assessed to maintain your ability to move and enjoy life, much the same as your blood test, blood pressure and vitals assessments are necessary for you to stay alive.
Who should do these assessments?
In a recent study, it was found that a physical therapist’s knowledge of the musculoskeletal system and its disorders was second only to orthopedic physicians (Childs et. al.).
(Childs et. al.)
So, by that logic, an Orthopedic Physician should do that assessment, right? Well, yes and no. I am by no means saying that an assessment by a Boarded Orthopedic is a bad idea, but Orthopedic Physicians specialize in corrections after an injury and are extremely busy taking care of those injuries.
So that leaves Physical Therapists. Which actually may be a better option anyway.
Physical Therapist are trained (and routinely perform) musculoskeletal assessments including assessments of range of motion, strength, balance, flexibility, endurance, joint mobility and pain. But more importantly, Physical Therapists are considered the MOVEMENT EXPERTS. No other profession spends as much time watching people move and assessing abnormalities in that movement (but don’t be self-conscious when you see us on the street—we check out everyone’s gait—its engrained in us in PT school). Physical therapists are also the last stop in correcting these movement issues, so you are already in the right place.
How can a Physical Therapist help?
A physical therapist during a musculoskeletal and functional check-up will combine the assessment of your musculoskeletal deficits and movement disorders to find the overarching Dysfunction. A Dysfunction can be defined as “a state of altered mechanics, either an increase or decrease from the expected normal, or the presence of aberrant motion” (Paris).
By defining the dysfunction, a physical therapist can design a program to stop the dysfunction before it becomes a problem.
Many people do not know that you can see a physical therapist without an injury or even without a prescription. In most states in the US, there is some form of direct access to physical therapy (New York included). So, an annual physical by a physical therapist is legal and can be very beneficial.
During the annual physical, the physical therapist of your choice will assess your strength range of motion, flexibility, balance, mobility, gait, cardiopulmonary health, posture, fitness level, and overall health. He/she will discuss his/her findings with you, as well as send a report to your general practitioner with any recommendations that he/she may have. Your physical therapist of choice can, also, give you an exercise program to begin to correct any problems that he/she may find.
You, then, have the option of performing the exercise program on your own and progressing at your pace, asking the therapist if the deficits may be enough for a course physical therapy, or beginning an exercise program with a trainer/physical therapist. Some physical therapist’s offices have wellness programs and performance training sections of their business.
Can a Physical Therapist help with Injury Prevention?
A physical therapist is trained in human movement and dysfunction, even if that dysfunction is not causing an ache or a pain. Physical therapists can find that dysfunction and correct it to increase your ability to move, improve the quality of your movements, decrease your need for medications, and improve your heart health by allowing you to move as your body was meant to.
Professional sport teams are now investing in “risk of injury assessments” on their athletes that they may invest in for only a couple years. Wouldn’t the same assessment be helpful for the body that you are going to use for life?
If you are starting back on an exercise program, returning to an activity such as tennis, golf, running, basketball, or biking, or are experiencing that “I just feel old” feeling, an assessment to see what movement, muscle or skill are limiting you may be a worthwhile time investment.
So, this year, when you schedule your physicals, I hope you consider a musculoskeletal and functional movement physical as part of your prevention plan. So you don’t just add years to your life, but life to your years.
Childs, AD, et. al. “A desc
ription of physical therapists' knowledge in managing musculoskeletal conditions.” BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders2005 6:32