What is Applied Functional Science, and how will it help me?

Now that we’ve shared a bit about G3: The Power of Community we want to talk about the science behind our treatment philosophy, which shapes our whole approach to healing and wellness. It’s called Applied Functional Science (AFS).

What’s AFS?

Probably the simplest way to define Applied Functional Science is to go back to the song “Dem Bones” that many of us sang for fun as children: “The shin bone’s connected to the knee bone, the knee bone’s connected to the thigh bone….” One of the primary principles of AFS is that the body is one big chain reaction, and what goes on at one joint or region in the body profoundly affects other parts of the body.

How is Physical Therapy with AFS different?

Traditional physical therapy will spend most of the treatment focused exclusively on the injured body part (lower back, knee, etc.) or local area. But AFS teaches us that to effectively treat an injury such as lower back pain, we need to assess and treat not only the lower back, but also the foot/ankle complex, the knees, the hips and the thoracic spine (mid-back) or the global body. With this approach, we not only relieve pain, swelling, stiffness and dysfunction of the particular body part; we also identify and treat the underlying causes of the lower back pain (or wherever your problem area), so you’re less likely to have a recurrence of the problem.

But wait – there’s more!

AFS is founded on the idea that all movement is made up of biological, physical and behavioral principles. These principles lead to movement strategies and techniques that determine all functional human movement – how we walk, sit, stand, play, etc. It is when the body’s strategies and techniques of movement become dysfunctional (due to poor posture, too much sitting, poor core mobility, poor strength or traumatic stress to tissues) that tissues break down, causing pain, weakness and stiffness. It is through the principles, strategies, and techniques of AFS that we can analyze, diagnose and treat the underlying causes of tissue pain and movement dysfunction.

(You can learn more about AFS by visiting the Gray Institute’s website. It’s where Mike and I met our mentor, AFS’ developer Dr. Gary Gray, and developed a passion for all things AFS!)

With me so far?

Let’s dive into the principles that shape our movement – and our healing!

Behavioral Principles: We can lead a horse to water, but we can’t make it drink!

That’s why we start with the behavioral principles. To set a foundation for success, we’ve created a community where we can gather, give and grow. We focus on communication, empowering you with knowledge and constant encouragement to build life long habits.

We also like to base our treatment and exercise techniques by building on successes. People are more likely to follow up on their PT plan of care if they are encouraged and see small incremental improvements. So, the more you understand, invest and build movements into your lifestyle, the better foundation and success you will experience. The more you share about your concerns, pains and goals, the more we can work together to meet your goals and build successes.

People come to physical therapy because they are hurt, probably feeling defeated and not always in the best mood. So, it’s important that our clinic’s environment be fun, encouraging and supportive. We want people to leave their pain and stress at the door and feel safe, so that they can focus mentally and physically on learning and healing

Biological Principles: NOT a “No Pain, No Gain” philosophy!

Just like creating an environment conducive to building a community, we also need to create an environment within our bodies for healing and movement. This requires examining and treating the whole body, both inside and out, which involves understanding the neuro-musculo-skeletal system, and the anatomy of our body, exploring nutrition and managing the inflammatory process.

Our mentor Gary Gray once asked us, when we have a patient move, “Is the muscle singing or screaming?” We need to listen to our bodies and figure out what movements will promote the most healing and what movements to avoid. For example, doing hundreds of hamstring curls may strengthen your hamstring for that particular exercise, but it also shortens the hamstring, setting your body up for hamstring tears when the hamstring is required to lengthen (while you run or do agility work, for example).

Understanding our physiology and biology to find the root cause of our problems is crucial to the healing process. It shortens the recovery period, restores functional activities, decreases episodes of recurrences and prevents other injuries.

Physical Principles: Finding the global or root cause, not just the local problem

What sets us apart from traditional PT is that we don’t just manage your pain locally. By understanding that there is a chain reaction that happens in the body, we can find the root cause by looking at how the whole body moves in our natural environment with gravity, weight, mass and by momentum created when we move. We analyze how your body responds to your environment or the specific movements of your sport or activity.

There is a neurological component that needs to be addressed with every single patient. When we get hurt, the pain naturally shuts down our muscles. That is why an ankle sprain that is not properly re-trained can easily be sprained (and strained) again. Or worse, that ankle will not regain its needed mobility. Curiously, a leading cause of low back pain is ankle stiffness. So, a stiff ankle may lead to a bad back if we don’t return mobility and strength to the ankle after we sprain it.

We are also learning the importance of nutrition during the healing of an injury. Our body needs the Lego blocks of proper nutrients to rebuild damaged muscles and ligaments. We need to manage inflammation so that our body can utilize the natural healing process without excessive inflammation. We can also speed up inflammation when that’s the most helpful choice – it’s what athletes do to get back on the field ASAP! (See our laser therapy for non-invasive healing options)

That’s a lot of info! But it all boils down to a few key points:

  1. Our bodies operate in a chain reaction, and what happens to one body part profoundly affects the rest of the body.
  2. AFS helps us find the root or global cause of your pain, not just the local source. This leads to faster, more thorough healing with a reduced risk of reinjury.
  3. At G3, we channel the behavioral, biological and physical principles of functional movement to work with your mind, body and spirit to develop healing habits that help you age without pain.

AFS might seem counterintuitive at first, but it definitely makes the most sense for us as physical therapists and movement specialists. We help our patients do more than just recover from an injury; we want to help them be the best they can be.

Mike and Sandra both gravitated to thinking outside the box, looking at the body as a whole and being empowered to look at possibilities instead of disabilities. And thank goodness, because it was this mutual belief that initiated our bond of now 12 years of marriage, two kids and living by the philosophy of G3.

Just a side note…

When something amazing works, we want to share with people we care about. A lot of patients ask us if other PTs in other areas do what we do. The good news is therapists and other fitness professionals are gravitating to this method by the hundreds every year. And the more we ask for AFS by name, the more we’ll see it around. (Just look at kombucha! Who would have thought that conventional grocery stores and gas stations would carry it?)

If you need a PT or trainer and don’t know what credentials to look for, click here to download your quick cheat sheet of questions to ask your next PT or trainer. This is important, because PTs and trainers can be expensive (not to mention the time you are investing in your health). You won’t want to waste your time getting lackluster results, and more importantly, you don’t want to get hurt and have an injury set you back for weeks or months. So, download these questions for when you or someone you know is ready to look for a PT or fitness professional