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Posture Series#5: Upper Body Compensation

Posture Series#5: Upper Body Compensation

Billy Pratt, BA, CPT, PAS, GIPS, CFMSP


Everybody compensates to one degree or another.  As humans we are essentially wired to be just a little bit stronger on one side, a little more flexible on another, etc.  When I see someone who has slight imbalances I am not generally concerned – it’s to be expected and in certain cases (depending on a client’s job, sport, or lifestyle activities) even desirable.  As with every other postural examination however it depends more on the degree of asymmetry and this holds true with overall compensatory patterns as well as with more specific ones.  If we separate the body into two halves, upper and lower, we can see overall patterns which exist independent of each other – the value to seeing this lies in knowing if and to what extent we tend to favor one side more than the other so we can be more conscious of it in our everyday lives.  Let’s take a general look at the upper body.

Stand in front of a mirror without shoes on and march in place while waving the arms up and down a few times.  This is essential to do so we “break our pattern” and can get a fresh look at how we naturally settle into our stance.  Now stand normally and take a few seconds to look at the space (or lack thereof) between your arm and torso on both the left and right sides.  If there appears to be an equal amount of space between your arm and body on both sides then there probably isn’t much difference between your sides.  But if there is a marked difference in gap sizes then there is a definite compensation going on.

These compensations exist due to a variety of factors – genetic, lifestyle, prior (or current) injury, etc.  When one side of the body has “something” going on with it, we tend to favor using the other side in order to unconsciously avoid the side that our brain is sensing some issue with.  Is this good?  If it is due to a current injury where we don’t want to overdo using the affected area then on a temporary basis it may be.  Once we heal up we tend to continue compensating for something that may not even be a concern anymore – our brains are very good at creating defensive compensations but don’t really know how to reverse them when they’re no longer needed. 

If you have one side with a larger gap then that is the side you may want to focus on stretching a little more.  The side with the smaller gap is the side which may be a little weaker and doing a little extra strengthening on that side until you feel equally strong on both sides could be beneficial.  Regardless of whether or not this is directly addressed, seeing a blatant asymmetry can help keep you more conscious of how you use your body on a day-by-day basis, and therein lies the real benefit to taking a more analytical look at ourselves – the increasing of self-awareness 😊

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