Functional tests are common in physical medicine, sports chiropractic and rehabilitation. We use these tests to examine a person’s ability to perform the most basic human functions, like standing up without becoming wobbly. It also helps us determine the right exercise or rehabilitation program for an individual based on their level of flexibility, strength, balance and stability.
These are the most basic tests for beginners, so don’t be intimidated. This isn’t elite sports medicine where we put an athlete on a balance board, have them shut their eyes, and try to knock them off balance.
If you pass with flying colors, that’s great. We can move on to intermediate and advanced tests. If you can’t perform these tests, consider consulting someone in physical medicine and rehabilitation so you can begin a reconditioning program that will help you prevent physical pain in the future.
To get started, go to a room in your home with a full-length mirror. You can either bring your computer or mobile device with you or print this blog so you can follow along. Close the door and strip down to your underwear so you can do a self-assessment in front of the mirror.
If you recently had an injury or surgery, like knee or hip surgery, or you’re dealing with a chronic condition, please consult your physician before performing these tests.
The first test is the toe touch. Start in the neutral position, standing up straight, feet together, facing the mirror. Simply bend over slowly and try to touch your toes while keeping your legs straight. If you can touch your toes without buckling your knees, you pass.
If you can’t reach your toes but can touch your shins or knees, this can be a sign of tightness in your hamstrings and/or calves, and limited flexibility and function. A program that will stretch these muscles in order to increase flexibility is suggested. Learning the right type of stretch is critical because the stretching we learned in high school gym class was usually incorrect.
Start in the neutral position, arms together in front of the chest, feet at shoulder width. As you squat down, keep your heels on the floor with your back straight, staring straight ahead into the mirror. Lower your rump until the tops of your legs, or quadriceps, are parallel to the floor. Hold that position for a second and then raise yourself back up to the neutral position.
If you can repeat this movement five or six times fluently, you pass. If your heels come off the ground, you start to wobble, or you have to stick your butt out so you don’t fall over – which I call the boop – these are signs that your gluteus and abdominal wall are weak.
What’s happening here is your lower back muscles are being recruited to compensate for your gluteus and abdominal wall, which are unable to support you throughout the squat.
The gluteus is the most powerful muscle in the human body and helps to protect our lower back. Many of us sit on our rear ends all day, gradually weakening the gluteus. When lower back muscles are recruited to pick up the slack for that weakness, it leads to lower back pain.
Please keep two things in mind as you perform these tests. First, the muscles we’re addressing aren’t the sexy ones. You don’t see them in a bikini. These are intrinsic muscles – the ones that glue us together and prevent spinal pain by providing us with core strength, balance and stability.
Second, don’t get discouraged if you don’t pass any of these tests. Think of it as an opportunity to take your health back and do something about it. Remember, this is the year of the family. Encourage those you care about to perform these tests and support each other as you work to improve yourselves!
If you have any questions about these tests, please don’t hesitate to contact us. In Part 2, I’ll show you four more at-home mirror tests you can do to assess your ability to perform basic human functions.
Try these tests and let us know how you do!
Dr. James Proodian is an accomplished chiropractic physician and health educator who founded Proodian Healthcare Family of Companies to help people feel better, function better, and live longer. His expertise for the past two decades has been in physical rehabilitation, and he has successfully established himself as a spinal specialist. In his practice, he advocates the science of functional medicine, which takes an integrative approach to treating patients by addressing their physical, nutritional, and psychological needs. Alarmed by the escalation of complex, chronic illness in our country, Dr. Proodian has been speaking to companies and organizations through his “Wellness at Work” program since 1994, motivating thousands of people to make positive lifestyle choices and lead healthier, more productive lives. He can be heard weekly on his radio program, “Proodian Healthcare By Design,” on Tandem Radio.