Compensation: Why Sometimes It’s Good and Sometimes It’s Not

“I’ve never even realized I was getting up that way,”

“I cant believe I’ve been walking like this for so long!”

These are just a few statements from a patient of ours when we pointed out a few compensations we saw during a session. So what is a compensation you might ask? A compensatory movement is a habitual movement used to achieve a functional task when a normal movement pattern is not established or not available. Your next question might be, is a compensatory movement pattern a bad thing?! I mean honestly, the answer could be yes or no! Now you’re probably thinking how is this possible. Yes- compensatory movements help individuals be as functional and independent as possible. For example, if you have weak gluts (butt muscles) and you are trying to get up from the floor your body will shift (lateral trunk lean) over the weak hip to decrease the moment arm of those weak muscles so your body has to exert less energy to stand up! Crazy right?

Here’s another fun fact for weak hip muscles. Say you have weakness on your right hip, your body will compensate by dropping the opposite hip (left) because the right hip isn’t strong enough to maintain that single leg stance while you’re walking. If your body wasn’t so resilient and knew how to make up for this weakness, you could end up on the floor and that would really stink. This seems like compensations would be a good thing right?! Yes, BUT you know there is ALWAYS a BUT! Compensations over time lead to pain! These compensations only work for so long until something begins to break down. So what do you think might happen if we are constantly compensating for our weak hips? Hip pain, knee pain, back pain…these are only a few of the most typical areas of the body that are affected by these compensations.

Our body is one big connected chain and any movement pattern in one area affects all the other areas. Next thing is- how do you know if you are a victim of these compensatory movements?! You ever realize that your muscles are ALWAYS tight no matter how much you stretch them? Or maybe you have the same annoying tenderness over the same muscles regardless of how much you roll them out? These might be some of the muscles doing ALL your work for you, making up for those weaklings! So short term fix, yes let’s compensate all day to get the job done, but long term NO we DO NOT want compensations! Because honestly who wants to deal with pain. The best part about all of this is, we can fix these compensations by addressing weaknesses and building strength to allow the body to complete movement patterns the right way! Ever heard of the saying

“Pain is weakness leaving the body,”

well aint this the truth! Get those booties stronger!

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Christine Astarita