What are Movement Compensations and Why Should You Care?

We’ve all experienced minor aches and pains here and there. Sometimes we remember the exact incident that caused it and other times it may feel like it gradually creeped up without a memorable event. After some time, perhaps it felt like it completely resolved on its own or maybe it occurs so infrequently that you don’t really pay attention to it….or should you?


The reality is when we hurt, we can start to move differently whether we consciously are aware of it or not because the body is resilient and wants you to keep going to be able to perform your everyday tasks. In efforts to avoid pain, or at the very least minimize it, the body will likely adopt different ways of moving to avoid the movement that causes pain. These inefficient ways of moving or faulty strategies are called #movement compensations. When pain is present with movement, the body may respond with a protective muscular response or may even want to avoid that motion altogether. Depending on how long these compensatory movements have been present, it’s not uncommon for pain to resolve, but the movement compensation to stay--until you deliberately retrain the movement to be better.


So if we don’t have pain we are all clear, right? Not necessarily--the body does not need to be in pain to develop movement compensations. This can also happen if a certain area in the body is stiff and another region or part tries to make up for this lack of movement. Overtime, the area that is contributing more may develop an increased amount of motion and not have adequate muscular stabilization and control which can lead to unwanted strain and stress in the area.


So why could these compensations be something worth paying attention to? Well, they ultimately can have a domino effect on the body. These compensations can lead to asymmetrical loading and potentially muscular overuse in certain areas since this faulty way of moving is less than optimal and inefficient. Remember that good ol’ song “the ankle bone’s connected to the leg bone…”? One joint will ultimately affect its neighbors above and below and thus the domino effect occurs.


One example of the importance of addressing contributing movement compensations is an individual who comes to PT for chronic and recurring low back pain and also casually reports an old “resolved” ankle injury. If ankle stiffness is still present from this previous injury, it potentially can affect how much hip motion is being used, which will inevitably put unwanted strain and stress into the low back with everyday activities such as walking, running, and squatting. There are many different scenarios of potential movement compensations that can occur in the body and each is unique to the individual.


The good news is that regardless of how long it’s been, exercise and even manual therapy can aim to correct movement compensations and allow an individual to regain healthy movement. Correcting faulty movement patterns may even lower your risk to future acute episodes of strain. A great way to understand how the entire body is working together and contributing to overall movement is a functional movement screen. Movement screens look at how an individual is moving to identify key areas that have less mobility or stability and could be vulnerable or negatively impacting healthy movement. They are a great way to proactively improve movement quality before these deficits potentially lead to impaired performance and risk of injury.


Some examples of ways to improve movement compensations are:


  • restoring motion to areas that may be stiff through manual therapy and exercise

  • improving muscular control/strength in one area to minimize unwanted stress/strain elsewhere

  • use corrective exercises to change the way the movement occurs in daily activities, sports, and fitness


If you are interested in learning more about functional movement screens, reach out to info@aomphysicaltherapy.com



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DISCLAIMER: Please note the information on this website and blog is for informational purposes only and should not be mistaken for individual health or medical advice.  For individual advice and before trying exercise, please see your local healthcare provider.