Most people take for granted the ability to move and take care of their daily needs. They don’t consider that they could lose the ability to stand, walk or reach up and grab something due to an illness or injury. The ability to do the activities that you need or want to do is the definition of Functional Health.


Keeping the Body Functioning

This area of healthcare involves the physical design of the body and the muscles, tendons, nerves, bones, and muscles that to keep it moving. It also consists of the field of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, which is also known as Physiatry.

Physiatrists help patients who have physical illnesses like muscle strains, pinched nerves, arthritis or other ailments that keep them from moving and performing daily activities. They understand how the body’s design and how to help enhance it, so patients can move about freely to perform their duties at work and home.

They also understand that most injuries involving the body’s functions come from everyday activities. It can be something as simple as stretching for a book on a high shelf or working at a desk for hours that causes back or muscle strains. Preventing these simple injuries are the reason it is important for the body to stay in good physical health.

Knowing the cause of most bodily injuries helps physiatrists get patients’ bodies in shape to prevent them. Being aware of the causes of diseases is also the definition of Functional Medicine or FM.


What is Functional Medicine?

This type of medicine involves being able to identify and treat the causes of diseases in individuals using their personal medical histories, family medical histories, and their lifestyles. This information gives doctors better ideas of the causes of diseases in their patients and the best way to treat them.

The traditional model of care that most people are used to receiving involves their primary care physician diagnosing and treating their ailments with medications. While it works well for traumas, infections and acute cases, it doesn’t work well for chronic diseases.

Over 125 million people in the United States are affected by chronic diseases like:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Asthma
  • Diabetes
  • COPD
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Parkinson’s Disease

There are several other chronic diseases from which people suffer. Some of these, such as Rheumatoid Arthritis, affects the body’s ability to function normally, making it difficult for sufferers to perform daily activities.

Five principles help define FM:

  1. It views patients as genetically and biologically unique, so it treats the individual and utilizes their natural healing mechanisms. The treatments involve healing the individual, not attacking diseases directly.
  2. This type of healthcare is based on science, which shows that everything that takes place is connected via complex relationships. By striving to understand those relationships, practitioners can discover their patients’ bodies function.
  3. The body has the ability to regulate itself, which is expressed through the balancing of its systems.
  4. Each person’s body can heal itself and can prevent all diseases associated with aging.
  5. Health isn’t achieved through the absence of diseases but through vitality.

While traditional medicine tries to find the right medications to treat diseases, FM uses the body’s own mechanisms to heal itself and prevent other diseases.


Reasons to See an FM Practitioner

There are many reasons why you should consider going to a doctor that practices FM.


Focuses on Patients Health

Conventional medicine is good for triaging patients and keeping them alive, but it doesn’t improve a person’s health or their quality of life. FM takes a holistic approach to medicine that helps patients make improvements and live a better life because they are healthier.

Customized Treatment Plans for Patients

FM practitioners recognize patients’ uniqueness, and design treatment plans to meet their needs specifically. They listen to their patients, gather their medical history, do genetic and other advanced testing to come up with their plans. By doing this work, they can create treatments that are customized for each patient.

Built Around the Latest Research

By the time studies involving conventional medicine make it into medical education, an average of 18 years has passed. However, in FM, the latest research is available to students and practitioners almost immediately.

Improves Patients’ Health

By understanding the root cause of the symptoms patients have, practitioners can eliminate them and their causes. Instead of only using drugs and procedures to heal people, FM doctors also use vitamins, minerals, usually in foods or supplements, and herbs to treat patients. The goal is to improve their patients’ quality of life, which allows them to feel good and live a long healthy life.

Transforms Lives

Patients who see FM practitioners learn to listen to their bodies and live lifestyles that promote good health and a good quality of life. Along with living well, FM also teaches people how to support healthy lifestyles and get through challenges to prevent chronic illnesses.

This type of healthcare involves a comprehensive approach to medicine that extends to Functional Health.


Whole Body Perspective

A Functional Healthcare practitioner, like a physiatrist, takes into account the entire body when treating a problem with it. For instance, if you were to injure your ankle, they not only treat it to ensure it heals, but they also consider how the ankle affects the rest of the body.

An injured ankle can cause other disruptions in the structures above the ankle joint, such as the knee, and it affects the nerves as well. By considering all the leg’s structures of the injured ankle, the physiatrist gets an overall view of any problems there are, which can lead to restoring the ankle and leg to its full function.

Instead of plying people with medications if they have an injury or disease that is limiting their ability to do want they need or want to, a physiatrist will use rehabilitative therapies to try to restore and improve their ability to move around.

Even if someone has a disability, the goal of an FH practitioner would be to recommend and provide therapies that could improve their functionality. If they lost the use of an arm, a physiatrist might show the patient alternative ways of working and doing the things they like without using it.

A physiatrist isn’t trained to save lives because they don’t perform surgeries or triage patients, but they help preserve the quality of patients’ lives. For instance, if a patient injures a knee, the FH practitioner can do what they can to avoid surgery or restore the knee’s full function after a procedure. They will also try to minimize the chances of re-injuring the joint.


Educating FM Practitioners

FM Practitioners

Image via Godocweb

A holistic approach to medicine traditionally isn’t taught in most medical schools, but hospitals like the number one hospital in the country, the Cleveland Clinic, and physicians are being to recognize the value of FM. The Cleveland Clinic opened a center devoted to FM as they see it as the future of healthcare.

To become certified in FM, health professionals can take the certification program at the Institute for Functional Medicine. Among their requirements for enrolling in the course is to have a healthcare degree and to hold a license to practice in the state, province, or country where their practice is located.

Some of the professionals who might be interested in taking this course include:

  • Medical doctors
  • Doctors of Osteopathy
  • Chiropractic doctors
  • Naturopathic doctors
  • Dentists
  • Nurse Practitioners
  • Physician Assistants
  • Registered Nurses
  • Registered Dieticians
  • Pharmacists
  • Acupuncturists

The coursework consists of completing their Applying FM in Clinical Practice course and six other courses. These courses will teach students how to assess, understand and treat or evaluate:

  • Gastrointestinal issues.
  • Toxicity in their Detox course.
  • Immune system problems and Autoimmune disorders.
  • Hormonal issues.
  • Cardiometabolic and Cardiovascular disorders.
  • Energy disorders.

The courses are taught over two days in various locations around the country. If you cannot attend them, live streaming of each course is available. Those who are accepted into the program have up to seven years to complete the courses to receive their certification from IFM.

Physiatrists who practice Functional Health have degrees as a Doctor of Medicine or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine and have expertise in physical medicine and rehabilitation. Some of them specialize in Sports Medicine as well.

They’ve been trained to assess and design treatment plans for patients to restore function to muscles, joints, nerves or other damaged tissues, so patients can continue to work and do the activities they love. Along with treating the initial injury, they also manage the other structures in the areas that are affected by the injury.

It is important to take a whole body approach to treating patients who have lost functionality due to injury or illness because it can be used to prevent future problems in the same location. By restoring function and maintaining their health, patients can do the things they need and like to do.

They may be able to go back to work, start running again or take a walk on a beach with their spouse.