What is Kinesiology?

What is Kinesiology?

Do you have a stiff neck? Or a frozen shoulder? Do you find it difficult to bend and pick things up from the ground? Does it hurt when you try to reach for things when extending your arms? Do you find it difficult to stretch? Or are you looking for a way to make your workspace more ergonomic?

If any of the above applies to you, then chances are you’ve tried several treatments and types of practitioners for relief and guidance.

In the sea of physical treatments, there are many service providers such as physiotherapists, massage therapists, chiropractors, and kinesiologists. How do you know which professional to see if you have joint pain, movement issues, or muscle tightness?

Who is this for –

  1. For People who want to know the difference between physio and kinesiology
  1. For those who don’t know what a kinesiologist does and whom do they treat
  1. Those who have movement, joints, or muscle tightness issues and are wondering what practitioner they should see

What will you get by the end of this blog –

You will have a better understanding of knowing which practitioner to visit depending on the nature of your injury and symptoms

The limitation and strength of a physiotherapist and a kinesiologist

Why knowing the difference between physiotherapists and kinesiologists is important

Disclaimer: Keep in mind that some Physiotherapists and Kinesiologists fall in between how I define traditional physiotherapists and kinesiologists.  For example, physiotherapists that focus on active exercises and movement, and kinesiologists that work with both active and passive aspects of rehabilitation.  

Let us get started.

Why Kinesiology and what is it?

Kinesiology is the study of human movement. How our movements develop from a baby to adolescence. How we learn to stand and walk from a supine position. Do we learn to stand and walk automatically? Or do we learn to stand and walk progressively?

Kinesiology also looks at muscle recruitment, how our brain recruits a group of muscles to coordinate movements based on the environment. The chain of muscles associated with how we learn to lift a heavy weight or how we learn to paint a portrait in fine detail is a component of kinesiology.

Once our body learns how to perform a certain movement, how does our body turn this into an automated response to meet the day to day demands like holding utensils when we eat, washing the dishes while talking to someone on the phone, etc.? Does our brain recruit the greatest number of muscles every time to perform a movement or does it arrange our muscles to create a short cut to perform movements efficiently?

When you reflect on how our movement is developed, refined, and automated, it is simply amazing. At some point in our lives, we strain our bodies from either frequent or prolonged movements and positions in an assortment of ways: work postures, seating postures, bending, and twisting.  How do these injuries affect our preprogrammed motor patterns? Does it negatively or positively affect your body? Will these past injuries catch up to you?  All these aforementioned movements and positions are related to an increased risk of a low back disorder.  When you experience a low back disorder, which can be anything from straining your back to experiencing a herniated disc, this can delay the inner core muscle activation important in spinal stability; as well as lower activation of back extensors and gluteal muscles to avoid pain.  When you experience these symptoms, this makes it very hard for your body to function at an optimum level.  This will result in ultimately altering your movement as your body will find a way to find the least path of resistance to avoid pain.  Ironically, your body will either overload the same injured muscle or an entirely new area.  Don’t get me wrong, your body is very resilient and can withstand almost anything but the more it finds compensation because of, the more your body will overload muscles that are not meant to tolerate an increased load.

From my experience as a Kinesiologist, low back injuries, although minor, can overload certain structures in your body which will cause it to be sensitive or have a lot of tension over time.  For example, if you had one or repeated instances where you fell on your pelvis and this resulted in you hurting your hip, this in turn decreased optimal activation of your glute muscles.  And let’s say that your work or normal routine involved plenty of crouching to standing movements. For crouching to standing to be successful, you must rely on lengthening and shortening of your glutes. If you are not able to fully access your glutes, this load will start to transfer over to your low back and put it in a more extended position. If you are in a constant extended position with your low back, this will affect how our shoulder activates and increase activation in the front shoulders.  This increase in activation of the front shoulders will then steadily reduce neck and shoulder range of motion. What seemingly looks like a harmless fall on your pelvis, might end up as a low back, shoulder, and neck issues down the road due to your body subconsciously overloading the same muscles and avoiding the pain.

While seemingly unrelated, a likely symptom from this example of crouching to standing may manifest as a sore and tight neck and shoulder or even worse, a frozen shoulder. This happens because our brains will start to reconfigure the motor pattern by increasing activation in the front shoulder muscles and decreasing activation in the posterior muscles of the back.

When I see some patients with frozen shoulder issues, I ask them how did you hurt your shoulder and they say “I don’t know, I just woke up with my shoulder like this.”  When I ask them about their injury history, I always track the culprit from a bump or injury in their low back/hip they had years ago.  This is a type of client I can help. 

As a Kinesiologist, My goal is to correct the movement so that the load that is distributed to the muscles in your body are optimal and tolerable.  More importantly, I want to nurture an increased body awareness and have them do exercises that make sense to them.

•      The type of patients (age, demographic, profession, prior conditions)

The patients that Kinesiologists can work with is a variety of people of all ages.  Keep in mind that there are different type of Kinesiologists (i.e. disability management, functional capacity evaluations, etc.), the type of Kinesiologist I am referring to are professionals who correct and help develop movement patterns.  Kinesiologists can work with someone as young as a toddler where they work on developing a skill or movement like catching, throwing, or hopping, skipping.  They can also work with adolescence where they teach foundational movement in a sport like acceleration, deceleration, and agility.  As the population gets older and work in jobs that require them to sit, bend, and twist for a prolonged period of time, Kinesiologists can help with proper posture and movement.   Ergonomically, they can improve the patients’ posture while seated by assessing and correcting the body’s alignment with the concept of good posture and using devices to help reduce the strain on their neck, shoulder, and back.  Functionally, they can also help correct the biomechanics of movements like crouching and lifting from floor to overhead by emphasizing exercises to increase involvement and activation of the lower body and hips.  What makes movement correction from Kinesiologists even more important is that we can also correct many layers of incorrect movement pattern that has accumulated over many years.  As a Kinesiologist, we have a set framework and a high level of knowledge about biomechanics and how your body should move and be positioned in space.

•      How do you diagnose the problem? How is it different from a physiotherapist? – Kinesiologists look at identifying the movement-related issue while the physiotherapist will give an official diagnosis (i.e. Frozen shoulder).  The reason this is important is because how we assess a problem dictates how we treat the injury.  Physiotherapists use passive treatments while Kinesiologists use active movement and exercises.

Physiotherapists use in-depth assessments to test factors such as range of motion and flexibility to determine current abilities.  Together with the patient, they will discuss day to day functional needs based on the patient’s goals and health.  This is usually done when a patient first gets injured.  As a complement to assessments completed by Physiotherapists, Kinesiologists take a more holistic approach.   When we first meet a client, we evaluate to get a better understanding of the factors affecting the patient:

  1. client history
  2. clinical assessment results (i.e. movement and postural assessment)
  3. identify associated health factors (physical and mental health)

•      How severe are the problems – injuries that happen after the subacute phase are injuries Kinesiologists can work with.

In theory, we can deal with any injuries that people experience from your neck to your feet.  The only limitation to what we do as Kinesiogists or Movement Specialists is that for the most part, we are not able to work with someone in the subacute phase of an injury.  This phase lasts between 4 – 14 days.  The general idea for rehabilitating an injury is to control and manage the inflammation.  Inflammation is the body’s way of healing itself. The usual avenue that patients take to address the inflammation from their injury is to take medication, ice and elevate the area, and or see a Physiotherapist. Once the inflammation has gone down, we can help patients stabilize and strengthen the injured and related areas of their body through a movement specific program.

•           What kind of homework assignments do kinesiologists generally give? (Exercise, medicine, etc) – normally stretches, rolling exercises, movement pattern exercises

Kinesiologists give homework based on the nature of the patients’ injury.  This homework comes in the form of stretches, foam, or massage ball rolling and strengthening exercises.  The goal of the homework is to help the patients manage their own pain by helping them relieve tension and pain in their bodies.  By giving them exercises they can do on their own, we in turn hope to empower patients and help them realize that they can do something every day to positively influence their injury.

•           When should someone choose a kinesiologist? 

They can see a kinesiologist for the following issues:

  1. movement assessment for injury prevention
  2. treat recurring injury (chronic knee, shoulder, low back, ankle pain, tightness, and soreness)
  3. treat overuse injury (from prolonged sitting or high work demands of bending and twisting)
  4. motor vehicle accident injuries

As long as you follow this guide of what a Kinesiologist does:

1. you can get the right type of treatment for a certain phase of the injury

2. you will increase your recovery time

3. you can decrease compensations in your body which will be better for your overall health and wellness.

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