What is Functional Medicine & Why is It So Important?

by Dr. Troy Vander Molen, Doctor of Physical Therapy

Though there are many types of musculoskeletal problems, people seek health care for one of only three types of complaints:

  • “I hurt…”,
  • “I can’t do…”, and
  • “I’m afraid to…”Functional Medicine

These three realities – pain, function, and fear – are the only reasons that Kinetic Edge exists. In fact, these complaints are the only reasons the fields of physical therapy, occupational therapy, chiropractic, and any field that helps injured people exist.

While I wish it was not true, there are people who receive care for their musculoskeletal injuries that do not achieve the results they desire. Despite their rehab efforts, they don’t experience improvements in comfort, performance, or confidence. There are a variety of reasons why that is the case, but at least some of the poor rehabilitation outcomes are due to the paradigms utilized by traditional rehab professionals.

The truth is that traditional rehabilitation has not always been relevant and authentic, and thus it has not addressed quality of life issues and what a person truly needs for enhanced comfort and performance to better work, play, and rest.  But, Kinetic Edge is not a traditional rehab group, and the Functional Medicine paradigm endorsed by Kinetic Edge is different than what you experience at most physical therapy clinics.

The concept of function is easy to understand.  Function refers to all of the things the body needs and wants to do to interact successfully with the environment within which we live.  The concepts of Functional Medicine, however, are unique.  Functional Medicine is a holistic and dynamic approach to treating functional impairments of the body that originate from nerves, muscles, and bones due to disease or injury.

The word holistic conjures up many images, some of which are questionable at best.  So, what do we mean when we say that our approach, Functional Medicine, is holistic? According to Meriam-Webster’s Dictionary, holistic is “relating to or concerned with wholes or with complete systems rather than with the analysis of, treatment of, or dissection into parts.”

That is exactly the focus of Functional Medicine!  It is a three-dimensional approach engaging the mind, body, and spirit.  But its focus and methods are three-dimensional in many other ways in that Functional Medicine incorporates:

  • Three planes of motion – sagittal, frontal, and transverse;
  • Three bodily systems – neuro-musculo-skeletal AND cardio-vascular-respiratory;
  • Three experiences – pain, performance, and pleasure; and
  • Three models of care – prevention, rehabilitation, and enhancement

Functional Medicine doesn’t stay on the treatment table. It moves from the horizontal to the vertical. It requires a person to get off the table and onto his or her feet. Functional Medicine recognizes that the body accomplishes meaningful functional activities for work, play, and rest through the production and absorption of energy that helps us fight against gravity.

These weightbearing activities occur in definable patterns called Chain ReactionsTM. A successful chain reaction means that each part in the chain of movement contributes a unique role that helps us move efficiently in our environments. But, when Chain ReactionsTM are impaired or compromised, movement is less efficient and can result in injuries that produce signs and symptoms associated with pain, loss of function, and biomechanical compensation.

Neuro-musculo-skeletal complaints, those arising from the neurological, muscular and/or skeletal systems, are second only to upper respiratory complaints as the cause for people seeking physician care.  Physicians are well-trained to manage medical conditions but are ill-prepared to evaluate and treat dynamic biomechanical conditions that manifest themselves in Chain ReactionsTM.  That is the domain of competent physical therapists, and those trained in Functional Medicine are best prepared to develop relevant and authentic treatment plans for to rehabilitate these conditions.

Unfortunately, many physical therapists, occupational therapists, and chiropractors are trained in biomechanical principles rather than functional application.  Functional Medicine is a stark contrast to traditional rehabilitation principles (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Traditional Rehabilitation vs. Functional Medicine

Traditional Rehabilitation Functional Medicine
Complaints and symptoms Causes and compensations
Problem moderating Problem solving
Challenges what a person cannot do Leverages what a person can do
A static, unloaded client A dynamic, loaded client
Isolated motion Three planes of movement
Non-functional activity Functional activity
Focus on treatment process Focus on treatment outcomes
Consciously driven by mindful intent Subconsciously driven by sensory stimulation
Dependency Empowering and encouraging
Contrived Spontaneous
Simulated Authentic

The Functional Medicine approach offers functional solutions and ensures success by providing knowledge, tools, and controls to live in power, not in pain.  Functional Medicine offers a unique, direct, and meaningful solution for all of the “I hurt…”, “I can’t do…”, and “I’m afraid to…” complaints.

To see how this approach works in real life, consider seeking out the services of a health care professional that understands function, like those at Kinetic Edge Physical Therapy.  If you or someone you know experiences chronic pain, loss of function, and/or biomechanical compensations, Functional Medicine may provide the solutions you have been seeking.

October is National Physical Therapy month, and I welcome you to take us up on our offer of a free injury screen. To celebrate, we are reserving Thursday, October 24, 2019, as a day for free injury screens. Call now at 866-588-0230 to claim one of only 33 screens available at each of our seven clinic locations, and find out how Functional Medicine can change your life.