Can Functional Movement Screening Predict Injury Risk in Older Adults?

Blog Post

Stephen W. Farrell, PhD, FACSM
The Cooper Team
Fit Tips
January 31, 2020

If you’ve had a physical fitness assessment in the past, you probably underwent tests of cardiorespiratory endurance, body composition, and muscular strength. However, a different type of physical assessment, the Functional Movement Screen (FMS), is gaining popularity as a way to identify movement limitations and risk of injury.

7 FMS Movements

The FMS assessment focuses on the quality of seven fundamental movement patterns:

  1. in-line lunge (functional movement)
  2. hurdle step (functional movement)
  3. deep squat (functional movement)
  4. active straight leg raise (fundamental mobility)
  5. shoulder mobility (fundamental mobility)
  6. rotary stability (fundamental core stability)
  7. trunk stability pushup (fundamental core strength)

By identifying movement limitations, FMS might be used to determine the risk of future musculoskeletal injuries such as joint sprains, muscle strains, and tendonitis. Until recently, the majority of FMS studies focused on young athletic males. But in our latest study, researchers from The Cooper Institute sought to determine which key health markers are related to FMS performance in older adults.

A Closer Look at the FMS Study

The study, published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, looked at nearly 600 generally healthy men and women (average age 61) in the Cooper Center Longitudinal Study (CCLS). The patients selected chose to participate in FMS as part of their preventive medical exam at the Cooper Clinic.

Researchers graded each of the seven movement patterns on a scale of 0-3 for a total best possible score of 21. The men scored an average of 11.7 and the women averaged 11.9.

Results showed that several key health markers significantly and negatively relate to the total FMS score:

  • waist circumference
  • body mass index (BMI)
  • metabolic syndrome
  • fasting blood glucose
  • hemoglobin A1c levels

In other words, the higher the values for those health markers, the lower the total FMS score. On the other hand, higher FMS scores were associated with higher values for several key health markers such as:

  • treadmill exercise test performance
  • HDL-cholesterol level
  • self-reported aerobic physical activity
  • self-reported strength training activity
  • omega-3 index
  • serum vitamin D levels

Some previous studies show that FMS scores under 14 may also indicate an increased risk of future injury. The current study identified key health markers that are strongly related to scores of <14:

  • obesity (based on BMI and waist circumference)
  • metabolic syndrome
  • low HDL-cholesterol (<40 mg/dL)
  • physical inactivity*

Take the FMS Assessment

The functional movement screen is not intended to replace traditional fitness assessments. If your gym or fitness center offers the FMS, then you should strongly consider taking it along with traditional fitness assessments. Be sure to ask if the test administrator is FMS-certified. If you score poorly in any of the seven functional movements, your FMS-certified trainer can show you a variety of corrective exercises to help you improve in these problem areas.

Improve Your Functional Movements

Performing these corrective exercises along with your regular physical activities should help you improve your movement patterns and reduce your risk of injury. A stronger body with better functional movement can help you maintain independent living for many years to come.  

*Physical inactivity for this study is defined by those not meeting the minimum recommendations for aerobic activity and strength training as defined by the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.


Farrell, S., Pavlovic, A., Barlow, C., Leonard, D., DeFina, J., Willis, B., DeFina, L., Haskell, W. (2019). Functional movement screening performance and association with key health markers in older adults. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000003273. [Epub ahead of print]


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