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Structure Dictates Function

Structure Dictates Function

February 10, 2021

The professional physical therapists at Carlson ProCare are guided by the osteopathic principle that states “structure dictates function; function influences structure.” This principle applies to all parts of the human body, including proteins, cells, nerves, arteries, bone, fascia, and muscle. For example, if the biceps becomes shortened because of immobilization (from a cast or sling), its structure has changed. The biceps may not be able to stretch enough to allow the person to fully straighten their elbow.

This change in structure will affect the person’s function; the ability to straighten one’s elbow is important for activities like opening a car door or reaching overhead. Here, the change in structure of the muscle has affected the person’s functional abilities.

How Can Function Influence Structure?

In my hometown, there was a local ice cream shop which employed a lot of teenagers. Everyone knew that if you got a job there, over time you would get a “scooping arm” in which the biceps and forearm muscles of your dominant arm were much more developed than your non-dominant side. Many of my friends looked like Popeye after a summer of working at the ice cream shop. Here, the person’s function (spending hours a day scooping ice cream) influenced their structure (muscle hypertrophy of their dominant arm).

How Does This Apply to Physical Therapy?

If a patient comes to us with lower back pain that keeps them from bending forward, we assess all of the parts of the body that contribute to that movement. This means we look at not just your spine, but your pelvis, core, hips, knees, and ankles. All of these body regions help a person be able to bend forward to pick something up off the ground. In addition to joint movement and muscle flexibility, we need to look at other parts of the body, including nerves and connective tissue, to ensure normal movement.

We then use a combination of manual therapy and exercise to improve this person’s structure, so their joints, muscles, nerves, and connective tissue have the available range of motion and flexibility to allow the person to bend forward. Once we have improved the structure, we then need to focus on improving function. We need to teach the patient how to use the new movement we have helped them regain. This is done with a combination of exercise, patient education, and movement retraining.

This comprehensive, whole-body approach is what sets us apart from other physical therapists. Many patients come to us frustrated with their lack of progress at other clinics because treatment was focused on treating pain rather than getting to the root cause of the problem and improving both structure and function.

Contact us today to schedule an appointment with one of our physical therapists. Let us help you with your structure and function!

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