Movement Health Means Something to Everyone
Updated: Apr 8
Have you heard the phrase “motion is lotion; rest is rust?” Or, how about this classic:, “move it or lose it?” Maybe you heard your physical therapist say it if you’ve ever been treated for a musculoskeletal (MSK) injury or mobility issue. The benefits of movement are well-established and have a positive impact on every major system in the human body. If you are in your 30s or older, your doctor certainly has mentioned that movement improves muscle mass, lowers total cholesterol, and increases bone density, among many other benefits, to support your daily life and reduce risk of many lifestyle-related chronic diseases. There is no pill or prescription that compares to regular movement and physical activity. We can truly say that movement is medicine.1-6
Despite the well-known benefits of regular movement, the total population is increasingly sedentary7 The prevalence of preventable chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease continue to rise. A lack of movement is one of the single greatest factors reducing our population’s overall health and wellness. With less movement comes more pain and dysfunction: MSK disorders like low back pain are now the number one driver of disability in the world, which places an enormous strain on quality of life, healthcare system and the economy.8
Finding Common Ground
Because many MSK conditions are intrinsically connected to how we live our lives, let’s look more closely on how we define “movement health.” Interestingly enough, there is no conclusive definition for what movement health means or what it looks like. Physical therapy, occupational therapy and even personal training are all based upon the assumption that we can identify, correct and optimize faulty movement that is observed or reported as painful. Through this process, we treat movement-based problems, decrease pain and help patients reach their goals. But collectively as practitioners, there are no indices in place to generate any clear term for movement health.
Why is movement health so hard to quantify or define? The word “movement” implies the concept of time in relation to all the joints and bones of the human body working together. For example, it is fairly easy to understand the basic movements of the elbow in isolation, but if the elbow moving is part of a pushup, it also involves the shoulder, wrist, hand, and trunk. The movement is made up of these individual parts moving together to propel the body down and up against body weight and gravity in a sequence. The practitioner can arrive at an observation about the pushup and how well someone’s body worked together to perform the sequence. However, the observation can change based on the variability of the movement, because pushups can be performed in so many different ways: one-handed, with knees on the floor or up against the wall. Now the observation must account for the style or context of this sequence. Applying this example of a movement sequence across all the ways the human body can move, it is clear how well someone moves becomes very complex. Not to mention, we are human and have our own unique movement signatures or capabilities inherent to our body.
Today technology is increasingly helping more people connect to their movement, from automated assistants coaching on standard fitness form to accessing MSK care through telehealth platforms. Telehealth advancements in particular allow providers to help more people, and for people to more quickly address their MSK concerns.9 But what’s missing in all this connectivity is the ability to objectively define the status of a person’s movement health considering all the different ways movement happens across space and time, and with variability.
The Role of Technology
Every day, practitioners work to help patients get closer to optimal movement or ‘good movement,’ yet there is a disconnect when it comes to engagement, compliance and general communication about what ‘good’ or optimal really means, what healthy movement really is. Technology can help. Think about the implications to the practice and to the patient when movement health can be measured objectively, easily communicated to patients, and monitored by the MSK provider, over all the sessions of care.
For most of us, seeing is believing! Using machine-learning solutions, patients and providers can understand movement patterns in comparison to optimal movement. Imagine using digital tools to show patients how they are moving compared to where they need to be for their age and activity level. Or showing patients how well they are progressing over their course of care. On a macro level, these specific, objective metrics for movement quality become incredibly valuable at scale because it represents both acute and long-term changes in a patient population’s movement health. Taken together, patient movement as data, communicated and interpreted with professional expertise, create a personalized but repeatable approach to understanding movement as health. Small seeds of revolution always start somewhere.