Apparently evolving from the new vision statement, the APTA and the board of directors introduced the “human movement system” as the potential professional identity and rallying cry for physical therapists. The definition of the human movement system is:

The human movement system comprises the anatomic structures and physiologic functions that interact to move the body or its component parts.

Chris Powers, PT, PhD, FAPTA recently discussed the concept of the human movement system on Karen Litzy’s podcast Healthy, Wealthy, and Smart. He stressed it’s conciseness, applicability to educating consumers, and it’s ability to be a unifying theme across practice settings. Dr. Power’s asserts the profession of physical therapy needs an identity, a central theme, and something that applies across patient populations and settings. He describes the human movement system as a system comprised of many systems. “We treat the entire movement system, and in order to do that you have to be an expert in all of the subsystems.”

Matt Sremba, PT, DPT, OCS Paul Mitalski, MS, and myself are interviewed by Adam Van Cleave on the Conatus Athletics’ Podcast regarding the Human Movement System and Role of the Physical Therapist. We think there are issues in regards to the definition and it’s implications. All of us agree with Dr Powers that there are problems within the field of physical therapy spanning education, research, and clinical practice. But, we do not see the creation of a “human movement system” nor the definition as assisting in either solving nor identifying any significant problems.

It’s over ambitious and under precise…this definition allows for a misinterpretation of the physical therapy profession…The first example I’ll give is the word components and how it’s used. In this instance the word is too broad….The word movement is too narrow…do they really mean ALL components of all anatomical systems involved in movement? Because that is what they say. In fact, what system wouldn’t be involved? What system or component of human anatomy doesn’t directly or indirectly contribute to movement? This is too broad. Didn’t narrow the scope…

When you propose a definition that has no bounds you end up not defining anything. And definitions have to be precise. So, this is a lack of precision. On the other hand, the word movement also has a lack of precision, but it’s opposite. The word movement, to me, is too constraining. It’s inconsistent with what the physical therapist does and it limits what the physical therapists does. PTs should have a medical role…for the human whether or not the human is moving. The therapist should be involved in non-movement aspects of the human. -Paul Mitalski, CEO of Conatus Athletics

Sure, this may appear like nit picking, minutia, and nothing but semantics. Is the human movement system really a system? Is this our professional identity? Do we want to create something else that no one knows about? If the physical therapy profession senses there are issues communicating our knowledge and roles to various stakeholders any proposed solution must be clear. Precision in language is needed.

The problems have not been specifically identified or labeled meaningfully. Is the definition for marketing and branding only? One liners and advocacy for physical therapy are not bad. In fact, rallying generally around PTs helping people move is a likely a meaningful cause. And of course, PTs deal in human movement quite frequently. But, we remain skeptical that attempts to create a human movement system will contribute meaningfully to education, research, clinical practice, or advocacy efforts. Further, this definition will not contribute meaningfully to communication. We think creating new systems with broad definitions that demand assumptions may only complicate an already cloudy communication problem.

Are the problems properly identified? And, does the creation of the human movement system and it’s definition address them? Some of the issues we identify (and will discuss further in future podcasts) are leadership, collaboration, and education modifications.

Listen to The Human Movement System with Dr. Chris Powers on Healthy, Wealthy, and Smart as well as our reply The Human Movement System and the Role of the Physical Therapist on The Conatus Athletics’ Podcast. Our goal is to open a dialogue on this topic.

So, what do you think?

The Human Movement System with Dr. Chris Powers on Healthy, Wealthy, and Smart
The Human Movement System and the Role of the Physical Therapist on The Conatus Athletics’ Podcast
Human Movement System information on APTA website
Rothstein Roundtable Debates Implementation of Human Movement System
Rothstein Debate: Putting All our Eggs in One Basket: Human Movement System on PTJ Podcast
Discussion: The Human Movement System on PTJ Podcast
Shirley Sahrmann explains why PT’s are THE Movement System Specialists on PTPintCast
‘Movement System’ Is Our Professional Identity
The human movement system: our professional identity by Shirley Sarhmann
On “The human movement system: our professional identity…”