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Unlocking Long-Standing Back Pain: The Benefits Of The Selective Functional Movement Assessment (SFMA)

Back pain is a common and often debilitating condition that affects millions of people worldwide. For many, it becomes a chronic issue that interferes with daily activities, quality of life, and overall well-being. While there are numerous treatments available, not all are effective in addressing the root causes of back pain. One innovative approach that has shown promising results is the use of Selective Functional Movement Assessment (SFMA) by neuromuscular therapists and physiotherapists. This blog post explores the benefits of SFMA and how it can help get to the root of long-standing back pain.

Understanding SFMA

Selective Functional Movement Assessment (SFMA) is a comprehensive movement-based diagnostic system designed to identify dysfunctional movement patterns and their underlying causes. Developed by physical therapists, SFMA provides a systematic approach to assess and classify movement patterns in patients experiencing pain or dysfunction.

The primary goal of SFMA is to pinpoint the root cause of pain or dysfunction rather than merely treating the symptoms. By evaluating movement patterns, therapists can identify whether the pain is due to mobility restrictions, stability and motor control issues, or a combination of both. This detailed assessment helps in creating a targeted and effective treatment plan.

How SFMA Works

SFMA involves a series of movements and tests that evaluate the body’s mobility and stability. These movements are divided into seven fundamental patterns:

1. Cervical Patterns

2. Upper Extremity Patterns

3. Multisegmental Flexion

4. Multisegmental Extension

5. Multisegmental Rotation

6. Single-leg Stance

7. Overhead Deep Squat

Each of these patterns is assessed to determine whether it is functional and pain-free, functional but painful, dysfunctional but pain-free, or dysfunctional and painful. Based on these classifications, therapists can identify which areas need further evaluation and treatment.

Benefits of SFMA in Treating Long-Standing Back Pain

1. Identifying the Root Cause

SFMA helps therapists identify the root cause of back pain by looking beyond the site of pain. Often, the location of pain is not the source of the problem. For example, back pain might be caused by hip immobility or poor core stability. SFMA allows therapists to uncover these hidden issues and address them effectively.

2. Comprehensive Assessment

Traditional assessments may focus on isolated areas of pain, but SFMA provides a holistic view of the body’s movement patterns. This comprehensive approach ensures that all potential contributing factors are considered, leading to a more accurate diagnosis and effective treatment plan.

3. Customized Treatment Plans

With the detailed information gathered from SFMA, therapists can develop highly personalized treatment plans. These plans are tailored to address the specific dysfunctions identified during the assessment, making them more effective in alleviating pain and restoring function.

4. Improved Patient Outcomes

By addressing the root causes of back pain, SFMA-based treatments can lead to better long-term outcomes. Patients often experience reduced pain, improved mobility, and enhanced overall function. This approach can also prevent the recurrence of pain by correcting underlying movement dysfunctions.

5. Enhanced Patient Education

SFMA empowers patients by helping them understand the underlying causes of their pain. This knowledge can motivate patients to adhere to their treatment plans and engage in preventative measures, such as specific exercises and lifestyle modifications, to maintain their improvements.

Case Study: SFMA in Action

Consider the case of John, a 45-year-old office worker who had been suffering from chronic lower back pain for over five years. Despite trying various treatments, including pain medications, massage therapy, and even chiropractic adjustments, his pain persisted.

John decided to visit a neuromuscular therapist trained in SFMA. During the initial assessment, the therapist observed that John had significant restrictions in his hip mobility and poor core stability. These dysfunctions were contributing to abnormal movement patterns and placing excessive strain on his lower back.

Using the insights gained from the SFMA, the therapist developed a targeted treatment plan for John. This plan included specific exercises to improve hip mobility and core stability, as well as manual therapy techniques to address muscle imbalances. Over the course of several weeks, John’s back pain significantly decreased, and he regained the ability to perform daily activities without discomfort.

The Role of Neuromuscular Therapists and Physiotherapists

Neuromuscular therapists and physiotherapists play a crucial role in utilizing SFMA to treat back pain. Their extensive training in anatomy, movement patterns, and therapeutic techniques allows them to effectively apply SFMA principles to diagnose and treat patients.

These professionals use a combination of manual therapy, therapeutic exercise, and patient education to address the dysfunctions identified through SFMA. This multi-faceted approach ensures that all aspects of the patient’s condition are addressed, leading to more comprehensive and lasting results.


Back pain can be a complex and challenging condition to treat, especially when it becomes chronic. However, innovative approaches like Selective Functional Movement Assessment (SFMA) offer hope for those suffering from long-standing back pain. By providing a detailed and holistic assessment of movement patterns, SFMA helps neuromuscular therapists and physiotherapists identify the root causes of pain and develop highly effective treatment plans.

If you’re struggling with chronic back pain, consider seeking out a therapist trained in SFMA. This comprehensive and personalized approach can help you achieve lasting relief and get back to enjoying your life pain-free.

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