Sometimes when you are very focused on a subject, you forget that what is common for you is completely unknown to others. This post corrects one of those mistakes by explaining one of those “obvious” things that aren’t obvious, or even known to most.
I always talk about getting the body back to proper function by addressing compensations, but I have forgotten until now to explain the concept of compensations. So here it goes!
Our body is an amazing machine, so amazing that if hurt in any way, it will immediately change posture to minimize pain, stop the possibility of any further injury and promote healing. That is really all a compensation is.
Compensations should be a temporary opportunity for the body to heal itself either on its own, or with the help of a professional (physiotherapy, rehabilitation, and in some cases surgery).
“Due to our unhealthy lifestyles, how food has been denatured or transformed of its nutritional profile, and the sedentary way we live life with, most injuries and pain stay for much longer that the body was designed to handle”.
Until here it is quite clear and simple: your body reacts to injury, accident or pain by changing its posture to permit movement to keep doing your daily life, find a place to rest and heal or get yourself to safety.
So what could be bad about it? Nothing on itself. As long as the compensation is TEMPORARY, and that truly means for the absolute minimum of time your body needs to heal, there is nothing wrong with it. Then what is all the fuss about?
Due to our unhealthy lifestyles, how food has been denatured or transformed of its nutritional profile, and the sedentary way we live life with, most injuries and pain stay for much longer that the body was designed to handle (without chronic effects). So what should have been a quick compensation to relieve inflammation, becomes a chronic problem, and the compensations that was a temporary solution to relieve inflammation becomes the “natural” way your body will move from that moment on.
This is one example of how a tiny accident can bring you pain, frustration and unhappiness until you correct it or you die with it:
Imagine that you are walking around your room and you happen to stub one of the toes of your foot on the bed. After all the swearing that usually goes attached to such event, the one thing that you can’t do is walk properly. The stubbed toe and the ones around it will refuse to land on the floor, putting most of the weight on the heel which means that your whole body is “bailing out” your toes. Your body transfers its weight to the opposite side of the affected foot, causing your hips to move away from the center and rotate away from square (not parallel to your feet and shoulders). To assume this position one of your shoulders elevates itself to allow your spine to assume angles that allow your body this new position.
Great news for your toes, bad news for your body.
Again, this is a natural process that promotes healing and still allows you to move around. But since a huge percentage of people consume too many sugars, simple carbs, alcohol and medications, your body won’t be able to heal as fast as it is supposed to do. So all those small changes I just described, become second nature to you to some degree.
“First and foremost: don’t blame age for the current state of your body. While all compensations have occurred in time, time hasn’t been the reason you developed compensations”.
Now, multiply this single event by the hundreds of impacts, cuts, muscle tears, broken bones and accidents you have had over your lifetime and you can now understand why most adults have postures that result in back pain, bad knees, stiff necks, and continuous injuries.
So now you know what compensations are, and how they affect your life, every single day, regardless of how healthy you think you are. So what to do about it? How to resolve such a problem?
First and foremost: don’t blame age for the current state of your body. While all compensations have occurred in time, time hasn’t been the reason you developed compensations. Time has only been the “canvas” over where you have developed the compensations, and second, compensations can be reversed, and for that, time can be also the canvas where healing happens too.
According to my personal experience you will have to do the following:
- Rehabilitate your old injuries. If you have injuries that healed “on their own”, it most likely means that your body adapted so much to the injury through compensations, that your body posture paid a high price for it, and the muscles, ligaments, tendons and fascia involved never healed and never got strong again. So go to a good rehabilitation doctor and do your rehab with the care, focus, intelligence and determination as if your life depended on it.
- Change your food habits. Eat wholesome, if possible organic foods. Grass-fed animal proteins, lots of vegetables and some fruits, and healthy fats. Stay away from grains and of fats that are not rich on Omega 3 fatty acids. Cook your food the absolute least and learn to enjoy the new flavours you will discover as your taste buds start coming back to live.
- Develop body awareness. The ability to feel your body ‘from the inside”. You must become a detective that investigates through awareness where the tension is, what are the sticky points in your body, force muscle engagement or relaxation in different parts of your body.
- Use visualizations. You have to develop the ability to find ways to “imagine” ways to get your body to act in a different ways to the usual. When I was rehabilitating my knee, I found out that when I closed my eyes, the place where my knee was in the leg, and where my brain “felt” my knee was, were completely different. So I started imagine having an unusually long leg that extended down the ground, and my knee being at least 15 centimeters below where it really was. With this visualization the brain was able to remap my whole leg and it started working without compensations much faster!
- Get some deep massage. Finding a good therapist that can manipulate your deep muscles will be invaluable for your recovery. Muscles sometimes develop this painful “knots” to get the compensations to stay in place. With some deep tissue massage you “teach” your muscle to stay relaxed, as a usual way of the body to compensate is to elongate a muscle while shortening another one. If you can’t find such a therapist or can’t afford one, get a foam roller and learn how to use it. Be patient, spend as long as you need until you learn how to use it, and until you soften the muscle spasms.
- Hydrate your fascia. What is the fascia? If you have eaten fried chicken, you most probably have seen that shiny, transparent “screen” that surrounds the meat, that is the fascia. It is the largest organ in the human body and goes connected from head to toes. Imagine you are wearing a spiderman suit, that goes not only around the muscles, but goes into bone, soft-tissue, and even organs. If you have compensations and imbalances your fascia will be all twisted and “stuck” into the places that you have been injured. So, drink a lot of mineral water or coconut juice to make your fascia elastic again. If possible go to a therapist that can do myofascial release for you, or learn how to stretch it yourself. The book “The permanent pain cure” by Men Chew PT, teaches how to stretch on your own fascia.
- Reduce physical activities. Keep the activities that you can perform while keeping the new movement patterns you are ingraining in your body. Fast movements and intensity will overwhelm the new patterns and your body will fall back into the compensation mode again and again. If you are patient you will have the rest of your life to enjoy any sport you want, if you aren’t, you will start and stop as new injuries and pain flares time and time again.
- Welcome discomfort. Moving in new ways will feel awkward at best, embrace it. If you are lucky enough to work with an expert, such as a private Pilates coach, he/she will immediately get you into positions that will feel awkward and uncomfortable, assume he/she is right and follow advice.
- Be patient. It took decades to get yourself into the situation you are today, it will take a few solid years to get yourself balanced and healthy.
- Repeat this measures every time you get hurt. Once you recover full health and mobility, be always mindful to help your body heal as fast as possible and if you get a new injury or accident, follow these steps all over again. It will take only days and you won’t accumulate compensations over compensations in the future.
- Take responsibility. Don’t be passive in this process, ask questions, inform yourself, don’t look for a silver bullet because there is none. Keep your healthy practices, move, eat well and enjoy life to the fullest!
So there you go, now you know what a compensation is, why they happen and how to address them to have a life free of pain and without restrictions.
Remember that physical and mental restrictions are the real factors of aging. Aging doesn’t bring restrictions, restrictions are the ones that result in aging.