Functional movement refers to the ability of our body to recruit the correct muscles and joints required to carry out a specific movement in a manner that is effortless, smooth, and pain-free. Having functionality allows our body to be biomechanically efficient in everything we do daily from sports to daily activities like walking, sitting, running, standing, and so on. Efficient movement depends on how our brain and nerves communicates with our muscles and joints of the body, which translates to each individual’s agility, balance, coordination, strength and flexibility; all important domains contributing to functional movement. If you think about it, every single movement we perform daily relies heavily on our brain’s ability to communicate effectively with our joints and muscles through our nerves and involves one or more of the aforementioned domains that contribute to functional movement. With that being said, functionality is an acquired trait. We are not automatically born to move efficiently although we are born with the necessary building blocks to develop functional movement. Simply put, our bodies are designed to move. However, as we progress in life, we may develop muscular imbalances, bad postural habits or encounter injuries and accidents that will prevent our body from developing in a well-balanced manner. Other times, we might spend too much time being sedentary, or moving in ways that is not biomechanically efficient. This disrupts our brain’s ability to effectively communicate and recruit the required muscles and joints necessary for functional movements, which in turn could promote poor body mechanics that eventually culminates in dysfunctional movement. Over time, our body would then succumb to injury as a result of dysfunctional movement patterns. Importance of Functionality Building functionality is important as it is the key to an injury-proof body. Think of the brain like a computer, capable of learning new “programmes”. As we go about our daily activities, our brain is constantly working and learning how to perform the movements required effectively and efficiently through the coordinated recruitment of muscles and joints. Therefore, the brain is constantly updating its “software” towards achieving greater functionality and better movement control. The basis of this process is known as cortical plasticity. However, our brain can sometimes adopt an incorrect “software” when we perform faulty movements through bad habits, lack of skills or due to injury. For example, constantly locking our knee joint when we stand, walk and run will inculcate a habit of not recruiting the correct muscles to evenly distribute weight throughout the knee joint. Over time, our brain adopts this as the “correct” way to run, walk or stand despite it placing unnecessary strain on our knee joint, promoting degeneration, and creating pain. The same concept applies to more complex movements involved in weightlifting or other type of sports. Learning the proper technique to recruit the correct muscles and joints in the correct sequence is imperative. Otherwise, the brain will just adopt the incorrect movement mechanism as the correct one. This explains why sometimes we still succumb to injury despite performing simple stretching or warm-ups prior to any exercise or activity. If we constantly move or engage in any activity with poor biomechanics, our brain would have wrongly adopted the incorrect “software” as the way to move, regardless if any “hardware” is replaced. Like in the knee example, a knee replacement surgery (change of hardware) might solve the issue of a degenerating knee joint and take the pain away. However, it does not change how our brain is recruiting the muscles around the knee to support our body weight (incorrect software). Hence, until we update our brain’s software to address any discrepancies, problems will still persist. Chiropractic & Functionality How do we update our brain’s “software” and achieve functionality in our movement and activities? For starters, we need to understand that doing constant stretching and warm-ups will not help much if our technique and form is incorrect. Stretching and warm-ups get blood flowing into our muscles to help prime them for proper contraction and generation of sufficient forces required for movement and activity. However, if our brain is unable to correctly recruit the necessary muscles and joints to execute the movement, any prior stretching and warm-up will not have the desired effect. Therefore, learning the correct way to perform any activity or exercise – form and posture – is key to achieving functionality. By learning the correct form and posture for any activity, our brain gradually learns the correct “software” to functionally perform the activity or movement in question; thereby minimising the risk of injuries occurring. Second, we also have to ensure proper core muscles activation. Our core is a group of muscles found around our trunk whose primary role is for support. Through every movement that we perform, our core muscles are engaged to ensure we can maintain our posture, keep our balance, and stabilise our entire body to ensure we have a stable and secure base to initiate any action. Having a weak core or poor core activation translates to instability, promoting poor movement patterns. Besides adopting proper postures and learning the correct form, we also need to ensure that our muscles are strong enough and our joints mobile enough to perform any movement or activity. Similarly, having a strong core and learning how to activate it is important. This is where chiropractic care can be helpful. Chiropractors are neuromusculoskeletal specialist, and we are interested with how our brain interacts with our muscles and joints through the nerves that run within the spinal cord. Simply put, our goal is to ensure that the communication between your brain, muscles, joints, nerves, and spinal cord are as smooth as possible. In doing so, all the “hardware” in the body would be able to function as it should, and when coupled with the correct “software”, functional movement can be achieved. For example, a chiropractor can help identify and address muscular imbalances that occur as a result of a tendency to only rely on one arm to lift things, or the habit to lean to one side whilst resting on a couch. Overtime, these habits will lead to improper muscular development and imbalances in strength and endurance of the muscle. As chiropractors, we can identify underused muscles and provide specific exercises to activate them and train the mind-muscle connection. At the same time, we can also apply some soft tissue work to overactive and tense muscles to help them relax and release any built-up tension. We can also identify underworking core muscles and teach how to activate them. Besides addressing the muscles, chiropractic can also address the spine and joints of the body. A chiropractor can provide adjustments to your spine and other joints of your body such as the knee or shoulder to ensure that they are moving as they should. When we develop bad postural habits such as sitting cross-legged or slouching over the chair for too long, certain muscles around the hips, knee and spine get overworked as they are constantly held in a stretched position and become tight while other muscle parts become less active. Not only does this lead to muscular imbalances as discussed earlier, it also limits the amount of movement around the joints in the knee, hip and spine; as the muscles in our body are attached to our bones that form our joints. If our joints are unable to move as it should, we would be severely limited in any movement or activity that we decide to engage in, even if our brain has the correct “software”. Through adjustments, chiropractors can encourage our joints to move as it should. Subsequently, chiropractors may then introduce some muscle work to release any muscular tension and address muscular imbalance to ensure the joints remain mobile. To conclude, everyone should aim to achieve functional movements in any activity they perform to minimise the risk of injury. To do so, we have to ensure our muscles, especially the core, and our joints (hardware), are strong enough to allow us to perform the actions needed. More importantly, we have to learn and perform all activities with the correct posture and form (software). Otherwise, no amount of strengthening or stretching would be truly beneficial and in so doing, everyone can achieve functionality. References 1.Cook, G., 2010. Movement: Functional movement systems: Screening, assessment. Corrective Strategies (1st ed.). Aptos, CA: On Target Publications, pp.73-106. 2.Liebenson, C., 2014. Functional training handbook. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. 3.Markham, J.A. and Greenough, W.T., 2004. Experience-driven brain plasticity: beyond the synapse. Neuron glia biology, 1(4), pp.351-363. 4.Rutherford, O.M., 1988. Muscular coordination and strength training. Sports medicine, 5(3), pp.196-202. 5.Zazulak, B.T., Hewett, T.E., Reeves, N.P., Goldberg, B. and Cholewicki, J., 2007. The effects of core proprioception on knee injury: a prospective biomechanical-epidemiological study. The American journal of sports medicine, 35(3), pp.368-373.