What are the FMS and SFMA certifications?

by Bill Gabriel, PT, DPT, OCS

The FMS (Functional Movement Screen) certification is a whole-body functional assessment. ‘Functional’ refers to one’s ability to move and stabilize the segments of the body to accomplish the diversity of activities of daily life. Activities of daily living are just what they sound like—everything from kneeling down on the ground; to reaching into a high spaces; to climbing stairs. Sporting movements are also included as they are made up of the same building blocks of control and flexibility. As such, the FMS can be used to assess an athlete’s readiness for sport from a flexibility, stability, and control standpoint. It does not however, evaluate the exercise capacity or conditioning level that are essential to sports participation.

The assessment works by means of 7 test movements which detect the presence of essential flexibility, stability, and motor control. There are criteria for performance for each of the test movements, and there are grades associated with how well a subject fulfills the criteria. Your subject's cumulative score, as well as their worst and least symmetrical attribute determine their “functionality”. This system is also designed to avoid situations which suggest the possibility of injury or pathology. When pain is encountered it is avoided.

Receiving the SFMA (Selective Functional Movement Assessment) certification is similar to the FMS, but is more detailed and explores movement in the presence of symptoms. Because the SFMA involves specialized measuring techniques, and assessment in the presence of symptoms, it requires a healthcare practitioner’s license. With regards the latter, the SFMA assesses ranges of motion passively, outside of the line of gravity, and in non-weight-bearing to clarify specific circumstances of one’s problem. Exploring these range of motion presentations, provides critical insight into the patient’s problem.

Similar to the FMS, the SFMA assessment starts with whole-body movements. But in the SFMA the movements are then broken into many component parts. A complex decision-tree guides the exploration forward into passive, active, and positional variations as well as fragments of the test movement. In the process, areas of weakness and immobility are isolated. Moreover, sources of pain, and potential pathology are deductively revealed. The end goal of the SFMA and the FMS is to develop full body movement capacity in a person. These differ from physical therapy in that they do not limit themselves to treating one area of dysfunction or pathology.