Live like an Olympian: Movement screening

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Movement screening

What it measures: Musculoskeletal function and injury risk

Why have it? Most of us don’t see a physio until we encounter a problem. But in the top echelons of our sport, physiotherapy is seen not just as an aspect of a cure, but as prevention. ‘Movement screening is like an MOT – it’s part of an elite runner’s arsenal,’ says physiotherapist Mark Buckingham, who devised the first screening protocol for British Athletics back in 1999. Screening can offer early warnings of issues arising from weakness or dysfunction before they become a problem, and also identify areas that can be targeted to improve performance. ‘I can’t emphasise enough how beneficial ongoing monthly check-ups have been in avoiding injuries and finding ways to get those essential marginal gains,’ says Sonia Samuels, who made it to the marathon final for Team GB at the Rio Olympics.

Movement screening typically entails a gait analysis and musculoskeletal examination. Buckingham also assesses nervous-system and breathing function. ‘By looking at functional movement patterns related to the athlete’s sport, we can see where the potential for improvement lies,’ he says. ‘And we know from experience which weaknesses, tightness and control patterns lead to issues among runners. Screening can help you to get to the bottom of those niggles that you can run through but that will be knocking points off your performance.’ But can recreational runners justify such comprehensive assessment? ‘Amateur runners tend to treat their bodies like their cars,’ says Buckingham. ‘They service them once a year and only send them to the garage when they’re broken. Elite athletes treat their bodies like a Formula One car. Ferrari doesn’t put 20 mechanics in the pit because the car is broken, but to spot issues before they arise and fine-tune for optimal performance.’

What’s it like? When I arrived for my assessment at physiotherapists Witty, Pask and Buckingham, I was directed to the local park for a run, so my gait would be analysed on less-than-fresh legs. Buckingham took a detailed history of my training and injury, and put me through both passive and active tests designed to assess my range of motion, stability, strength and control (such as balancing on one leg on my toes). The list of corrective exercises I went away with seemed daunting but I stuck at it and without doubt it has made the biggest impact on my return to fitness following serial injuries. As Buckingham says, ‘The assessment itself will not benefit you – it’s the work you do afterwards that counts.’

Details: Full biomechanical assessment (90 minutes) costs £90 at Witty, Pask and Buckingham Physiotherapy