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The truth behind physical compensations

Fit to Farm: How people move and hold themselves can reveal much of their life history

When we approach compensations from a place of understanding the value they’ve held at some point in relation to our survival, they begin to make a lot of sense.

Even compensations and imbalances have a time and place — just like crutches have a place after breaking a leg. Though often when compensations begin to cause issues like pain, performance barriers and tension, they’ve reached the end of their purpose.

Our body’s job is to keep us functioning and stable (a.k.a. safe) in an upright position. This means resisting gravity is a daily exercise. How we do that is dependent on our ingrained movement patterns. When this process is threatened, compensations arise to create a sense of safety.

Development of compensations or imbalances can stem from various roots: traumatic, developmental, and emotional. Often these three categories intermingle. Remember, someone’s movement pattern is deeply related to their life stories. Our nervous system builds patterns around familiarity and expectation, so how we’ve learned to react and respond to our environments early in life sets the stage for how we respond as we go through life.

  • Trauma: Whether it be physical or emotional trauma, it can change how we move both short and long term. When we have a trauma our nervous system learns to protect the area impacted and reroute our behaviors to keep us “safe” in the aftermath. What this looks like in each individual will be based on their unique histories and upbringings. We usually learn how to react to traumas based on familial and cultural “norms,” and many people have long repressed traumas in their bodies that can impact how they move for the long term.
  • Developmental: This is how we’ve learned, from an early age, to manage gravitational forces and react to our physical world. Similar to our reactions to trauma or stress, how we move is heavily influenced by those we spent the most time with as we were developing our movement capabilities. Very few orthopedic conditions are truly “genetic,” rather they are inherited patterns based on what we observed and mirrored as developing humans in our early years.
  • Emotional: Because our nervous system controls and reacts to both our physical and emotional states, how we feel will subtly influence our physical posture and movement. This is relatively easy for us to intuitively observe, as over 80 per cent of our communication as humans is non-verbal. Often how our emotions influence our body language, postures, and movements is subconscious and not something we actively control or are even aware of.

The way we move is usually based off well-established patterns. With our nervous system being our main control centre for movement, we have to recognize that our nervous system operates off ensuring our survival. Our conscious selves are only the tip of the iceberg, with 80 to 90 per cent of how we operate being unconscious patterning. Analyzing movement is limited unless we factor in this concept. How people move and hold themselves is a story of their entire life history. It can tell you about their emotional patterning, past injuries and traumas, and their perception of life itself.

When we approach compensations from a place of understanding the value they’ve held at some point in relation to our survival, they begin to make a lot of sense. From this awareness the solution begins to become clear. What’s a more efficient way to ensure security and survival, and therefore enhance performance, decrease pain/tension and improve confidence? Within awareness lies the beginnings of our solution!

About the author


Kathlyn Hossack runs a clinical practice, Integrative Movement in Winnipeg, Manitoba and consults clients throughout Alberta on a regular basis. For questions or consultations email her at [email protected].

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