The Functional Movement Screen has grown in popularity as a means of screening athletes for asymmetries, dysfunction and ultimately risk of injury. The movement screen involves a series of seven movements that an athlete is to perform with minimal instruction or feedback from the coach. A scoring system is used to grade the athlete’s overall performance on the screen and thus potential for injury. A total of 21 possible points can be earned by successfully performing the requisite movements. A score of 14 or below is purported to be a failure of the test, indicating a heightened risk of injury in that particular athlete. Based on the results of the screen, the athlete is then prescribed “corrective exercises” to improve movement quality and therefore reduce injury risk.
The FMS, and movement screens like it have been under scrutiny from several professionals in the field of sports medicine and strength and conditioning. Common criticisms of the FMS include issues of inter-rater reliability where an athlete’s scores can be different based on the perceived movement quality and experience of the grader. In addition, a lack of scientific evidence supporting the purported claims of the screen has also been raised as a point of contention.
A brand new study from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research by Frost et al (2013) raises another important concern with movement screens for determining injury risk and guiding corrective exercise prescription. The researchers put a group of individuals through the FMS following standard procedures. Minutes after the screen, the same individuals were put through the screen again, however this time the researchers gave them cues for how the movement should be performed to earn a perfect score. Sure enough, the results of the screens significantly improved. In fact, 9 subjects scored a 14 or below during the first test. Eight of those nine subjects improved their scores above 14 during the second screening only minutes later. The results of this study expose an important limitation of movement screens like the FMS. Once athletes are aware of the grading criteria, is the screen still effective? In this case, it did not appear so. Though screens are convenient and certainly better than doing no screening at all, practitioners should consider the implications of this study. Movement screens are still valuable however and should not be dismissed. Until more practical and effective tools for coaches are available, screening can still be effective.
Frost, D.M., Beach, T., Callaghan, J.P. & McGill, S.M. FMSTM scores change with performers’ knowledge of the grading criteria – Are general movement screens capturing dysfunction? Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, E-Pub Ahead of Print