What is a movement screen and how can it help identify my risk for injury?

Movement screens in fitness and rehab have been a hot topic and are at the center of many a debate in recent years. There are even several different protocols and philosophies that rehab and fitness professionals subscribe to when using movements analysis to assess their clients risk of injury. A professional may use video analysis, specific testing protocols or rely on simple experience to assess their athletes. Nonetheless there is great value in assessing how the body moves as a unit and not just looking at how individual joints move. The body is a series of levers that are meant to work together, not individually by themselves. By assessing whole body movements a qualified professional may be able to predict your athletes risk for injury and then prescribe strategies and interventions to hopefully prevent this injury. Any good performance or rehab program should begin with a good movement assessment.


Regardless of the movement screens’ basic philosophy, they all subscribe to the theory that the body is not comprised of single muscle groups that perform specific movements but rather chains of muscles and boney components that work together along with the Central Nervous System (the driving neural component of our bodies) to stabilize and create movement. I can be fairly certain that unless you are utilizing artificial ways of muscle stimulation there is never an instance when you will be able to single out a single muscle during everyday movement.


During our daily lives there are certain movements that we all perform in some variation of each other. We squat, lung, push, pull and carry to perform our activities of daily living. People who subscribe to a movement based approach believe it is how muscles function together to create these movements that must be assessed when evaluating a person for risk of injury as opposed to how individual muscles function.

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While moving through each of the above patterns all of us move in a compensatory fashion that we have developed over the years due to our individual habits and tendencies. For instance a right handed person may tend to always grab a door handle with their right hand or a right foot dominant individual may always take their first step with their R foot. Extrapolate this out to hundreds of times per day, thousands of times per week, millions of times per year and you can see how we may develop more developed muscles or more efficient movement patterns on one side. This creates asymmetries in muscle function that may in turn affect how our boney structure is aligned, pre-disposing an athlete to injury. However this is another blog post for a different day.

As described above it is within our daily movement patterns that  we may move or develop muscle compensatory patterns asymmetrically either, right to left, front to back or top to bottom and research has shown that these asymmetries will place a person at an increased risk of injury as repetition or load are added to the system. That is why it is imperative that we clean up these asymmetries and misalignments up as best we can or prescribe exercise programs accordingly to limit the stress and loads placed on these asymmetries as they may cause injury with the increased demands of athletic activity.


Inherently we all have asymmetries and compensatory patterns and movement screens tend to account for this. What these screens are most often looking for is the gross (large) asymmetries that are very apparent and will put us at an increased risk of injury because they alter the way that we are supposed to move.

There are many movement screen protocols and many fitness and rehab professionals use one system or their own hybrid of many systems that helps give them the information that they need to properly create an individualized program for their clients and patients. No one system is the absolute “go-to” system and they can all provide valuable information into the movement patterns they aim to assess. It is important to note however that some have been more scientifically validated than others but the most important point is that they all provide valuable information regardless of the amount of scientific backing that they have. It is your fitness professionals trained eye that will give the most valuable feedback as your child works through a movement screen.

It is important to note that movement compensations may be the reason for injury or the injury may be the cause of movement compensation. It is because of this that it is up to the trained eye of the movement professional to determine if there is a clear cut origin. This is why it is important to find a qualified and trained movement specialist that will be able to assess your childs movement patterns and their risk for injury. It must be noted however that many of the movement assessment protocols may not be validated in younger age groups though this does not mean that they cannot yield important information; information that may help to guide your movement professionals training or rehab program helping to prevent future injury in your child. It must be recognized that your child may not have the coordination or movement proficiency to score well on the tests but this may not necessarily place them at increased risk for injury.

In general movement skills can be trained and your child can be guided to help them prevent injury and perform better in the future.

It is up to both the parent and adolescent athlete to be informed and to ask the right questions when seeking out the best fitness and rehab professionals to keep their athletes healthy and on the field. We have mentioned before that not all fitness and rehab professionals are created equal and it is the goal of this blog to help inform parents and their athletes of the things that need to be thought about when seeking out the most qualified professionals. This could mean the difference between a $40,000 surgery and a scholarship to play in college!

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