Common Compensations

Referred PainCommon compensations. What does that mean? Is it like common law… time to get married anyone? Or is it part of the new health law, like workers’ compensation, only it applies to everyone? Or better yet, does it mean we all get some of our tax money back, in some “common compensation” Act of Congress this year? We wish.

This month’s article is kicking off a new monthly article series about common compensations in the body. While you may think you are functioning just fine, read through this list of symptoms to see if you have ever experienced one or several of them.

  • Headaches
  • Tingling in your hands
  • Shooting pain in your heel
  • Sharp pain in the lateral knee 
  • Neck stiffness
  • Pain in your knee joint 
  • Toe numbness 
  • Knee locking

These are all signs and symptoms of the little known, yet common compensations in the body.

Knee Pain

Our bodies are powerfully and uniquely made to promote function. Whether or not our body can truly handle it, even if the muscles that are supposed to perform a particular action fail, our body can still get the job done. When a muscle needs to work, but doesn’t, the body automatically pulls in a pinch hitter to do the job. This seems like a good thing. However, the muscles that are compensating were not designed to perform these compensating actions, leading to overuse, increased joint wear and tear, excessive muscle tension and tightness (even spasm), and pain in the muscle or in a nearby joint.

When you think about, this amazing built-in coping mechanism for life is really a God-send to patients who may have severed a limb or suffer a severe neurological injury such as a spinal cord injury. This ability to function in more than one way is frequently used as a training tool to allow people with permanent disabilities an alternate way to still perform daily tasks. However, in those of us with generally normal bodies with no life-altering injury or disease process, muscles that compensate for other muscles actually causes further pain and dysfunction. When do compensations happen? Any time that a muscle is weak, has poor activation, or when pain or joint tightness shuts a local muscle down, or even poor postural habits, or a combination of any or all of these contribute to faulty movement patterns.

Car BatteryIf these compensations are so common, why don’t I already know about them, you may be thinking. While these compensations can be found in each of us, very few of us recognize the faulty movement patterns we utilize on a daily basis to complete the demands of our daily lives. We fail to recognize the compensation patterns frequently in other less than obvious in other areas in life. If your car doesn’t start, you blame the battery, right? But many times, once you investigate further, you actually realize there’s a very good chance it could be the alternator, and the battery may be just fine. The same goes with your body. You may have knee pain, but you have no idea that the source of the problem is not really your knee. Your knee simply exhibits the symptoms you feel, while the real culprit, a weak gluteus medius causing poor joint movement patterns at the knee, is really to blame.

In the coming months, you will be introduced to these common compensations one by one, so that you can understand the root of potential aches and pains and current or future problem areas in your own body. If you can learn what movement patterns are faulty, then you can identify what compensations you have and do something about them before you even feel any pain. If you have specific questions each month after reading these articles, be sure to contact us for further details, explanations, or for answers to your questions here or email Our goal at MotionWorks Physical Therapy is to help you not only return to the joy of living, but to enjoy your current life without interruptions from injury! Be sure to read more about it next month!

Common Compensations: