Have you ever recovered from an injury and just felt like something was off. Did you ever battle an ankle, knee or hip injury and wind up with a sore back? Are you a runner or biker or do you perform any activity that requires repetitive motions/movements and have problems fully recovering from a simple injury due to aches and pains elsewhere? Or have you suffered from any tightness, soreness, discomfort or pain and just have been unable to return to your normal activities due to pain or fear of the pain returning? If not now, does any of this sound familiar, no matter how recent or in the distant past?
If you, or someone you know, can relate to what you just read, you are not alone! It is so common to not fully get back to your once active, mobile self that I often take a lot of time to explain to clients or take time to write about it to make sure people understand what is happening and how to overcome these issues. I will simply explain what is happening to you and to so many people who wind up throwing their hands up, wanting to give up and thinking they will never get back to their previous activities.
You see, our bodies respond to aches, pains, tightness, soreness and discomfort in a similar way. It is called compensation, though not the type of compensation you would desire. It is your body’s way of paying you for the injury you caused or allowed to happen. Our bodies are such experts at trying to avoid pain, discomfort and tightness that other parts of our body try to overcome the injured region and either tighten up, pull away from or simply “compensate” for the injured area. This leaves an imbalance throughout your body, when comparing right side to left sides. Think of the way your car has a massive pull to one side when you suffer a tire blowout while driving; the other three tires pick up the slack, and you notice a huge strain through the steering wheel, causing you to have to compensate for the missing tire. If you can imagine the strain through the car frame, you can understand what happens in your body when it compensates for a problem. The major difference is the car frame is solid steel with no joints or moving parts, whereas, our body has numerous joints, both big and small, that move, causing further compensations to muscles that cross those joints. The tire blowout is a severe example for us to picture, feel and understand what happens to our body during a strain, injury, accident or unnatural motion or position. Any strain, pain, tightness or injury causes other parts of your body to get overused, tighten, bear more weight or simply strain to try to help overcome the area of the body in need.
A simple example to drive this concept home is this: think of someone struggling to walk with a sprained ankle. Typically, there is a noticeable limp, a shortened step on the bad ankle, the body getting a little contorted with each step. So, what is happening to the knee on the bad side, as well as the good side? How about the hips, low back or shoulders? Picture that limping in your head and think of how unnatural, out of balance and painful it looks. Now, imagine walking around like that for a week or so, until the bad ankle feels better and the limping gets less. What has happened to all the aforementioned body parts? Strained, pulling, stress and compensation movements for a week, which most likely has caused strains and pains elsewhere, which have been overlooked due to the ankle. If these issues are not addressed, balanced out and fixed, how likely is it that that body will respond to normal activities? How will the stressed regions and strained regions respond? Can you imagine that person being an athlete, which requires their body to be in balance and strong throughout? If nothing was done to correct the other issues, an injury, or re-injury, is very likely to occur once full activities are resumed.
If these areas that have compensated for your symptoms are not addressed, it is possible that they may not return to their normal condition and thus cause you to feel out of balance, a little off or not quite 100 percent. If this is you, make sure when you seek help, your trainer, healthcare provider or physician looks at more than just the injured or compromised area to make sure you will be able to fully return to all activities in a balanced and safe way.
By Dean Volk, PT
Owner and Senior Therapist
Volk Physical Therapy