What are Compensation Injuries?

It’s not uncommon for individuals to learn just how interconnected musculoskeletal body parts are after they injure one area, only to experience pain radiating to parts previously pain-free and functioning normally. Sometimes the reasons for compensation injuries become quite obvious fairly quickly. Other injuries are seemingly the only issue but upon further evaluation, there is actually a larger issue at hand.

This is why it is so important to take a holistic approach to healthcare, not simply focusing on eliminating pain from one area, but tracing the pain back to the root cause. Taking this holistic approach helps to ensure health issues are resolved before compensation injuries occur turning into an even bigger health problem.

Compensation Due To Overuse

If you’ve ever had a foot injury and had to use crutches in order to walk, you probably became aware of muscles throughout your shoulders, upper chest, and arms that you weren’t aware even existed. Using crutches in order to maneuver and walk puts many muscular components of the upper body in unnatural positions, as well as calling on them to perform work they don’t normally do. It’s not uncommon for upper body muscles to respond with muscle spasms, tightness, and perhaps even muscle strain. At other times, an individual may injure their arm or leg, thus forcing them to rely solely on the remaining limb. Over time, the previously healthy limb begins to exhibit symptoms of overuse such as pain, tendinitis, and/or muscle sprain.

Chain Reaction Compensation Injuries

There is probably no other area that starts chain reaction injuries as much as the spinal column. It is not uncommon for an individual to exhibit numbness and tingling in their hands, with the initial assumption their symptoms stem from a carpal tunnel injury. Upon a thorough examination, it’s discovered the actual cause of their symptoms is from a pinched nerve in their cervical (neck) region. In other cases, an individual may have hip and/or leg pain that relates back to an issue in the lumbar (lower back) area of the spinal column.

Conversely, the spinal column is often the most vulnerable to developing problems from injuries that begin in other parts of the body, such as the foot, knee, or hip. For example, a patient may initially start out with a foot injury such as plantar fasciitis or fallen arches. If left untreated, these conditions can cause excessive pronation of the foot and/or ankle.  In turn, a poorly functioning foot and ankle can lead to misalignments in the knee and hip areas, eventually adversely affecting areas of the spinal column.

Arthritis is another condition that can cause chain reaction injuries. The pain, stiffness, and swelling that individuals encounter during a flare-up often cause them to move their bodies in an altered manner. This is the body’s attempt to protect the affected area. This protectionist movement is called “guarding” or “muscle guarding”. Sometimes a patient’s altered movements are so subtle they may not even realize they are moving in an abnormal manner. They only know that over time it becomes more and more difficult to go about their daily activities. As even relatively benign activities become more painful to perform, they do less and less, and the vicious cycle continues.


The job of a physical therapist is to look beyond surface symptoms in order to connect the pain a patient experiences with the true injury(ies). By taking a holistic approach, reviewing all the parts as a collective whole, a physical therapist can address both the surface injury and the root cause, giving a patient the best opportunity for a successful outcome. If you would like relief from your compensation pain, please call Cawley Physical Therapy and Rehab at 570-208-2787 or email us at: cawleyptfrank@gmail.com.

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