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Posture Series #6: Lower Body Compensation

Posture Series #6: Lower 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 lower body.

Stand in front of a full-length 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 visually find the point on the floor that is exactly midway between your feet.  Draw an imaginary line straight up the body from that point and note where your nose is in relation to that imaginary line.  If your nose lines up perfectly with that line then you are standing evenly on both feet and not compensating by putting more weight on either leg.  If your nose is oriented more to either side of that line then that is the side of your body you put more weight on habitually when standing.  For example if you see your nose lies more to the left of that line then you probably tend to put more weight on your left leg.  One thing to watch for is if you naturally turn your head to one side or another – be sure when you follow the imaginary line that your face is square to the front.

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 habitually put more weight on one leg then that leg is probably stronger but tighter whereas the other leg is probably weaker but looser.  The stronger side may need a little more stretching while the weaker side may need more strengthening to help even them out.  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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