Personal Note: A client called me up with some lower back/ hip pain on the left side. The pain started in the upper gluts, then travelled down to the calf. During the interview, I asked them if there’s been any pain on the right side, noting they’ve got all their weight on that side. “None, it’s all on the left.” This is a common situation and I check the right side anyway. “I didn’t realize that side hurt too!”
Does our brain focus on the thing that hurts the most, so we don’t feel other pain? Why do we put all the weight on the right when the left side hurts?
“What is Compensation?”
When one side of the body feels pain, the brain automatically wants to relax that side as a guard against more pain. To keep the body functioning in a specific action, the uninjured side tries to do double the work to “compensate” for the lack.
Taking from the example above, the client’s left hip was injured. In order to avoid pain, the brain subconsciously took weight off the injury and put everything on the right side.
However, the body can cause more tension in the side that’s compensating. By doing double the work, the muscles and structure of the body will strain themselves to keep functioning in the action that the injured side can’t bear.
Personal Note: Whenever there’s a problem on one side, I always check the other side too.
“Why does the brain only focus on one side?”
There’s a Theory that was created in the 1960s called the Gate Theory of Pain. In this theory there are “gates” back and forth to the brain that open and close themselves to certain stimulation.
When an injury occurs, a “pain” gate opens to the brain. “I’ve been injured, do something about it.”
For example, when we bang our knee against a table, it hurts. Our brain tells our body to massage the pain, because that’s a form of stimulation that it knows will feel better than the pain. Massaging opens a different “feel better” gate, and closes the “pain” gate.
Personal Note: Many people speculate on the long term pain, but almost everyone I’ve talked to agrees on the below theory.
However, when there’s a long term injury, the pain gate remains open so long that the brain gets used to it. Like a open fence, the brain doesn’t notice the pain too much. “It’s just…kind of there.”
Now, something new happens. The pain involved in that event shocks the system. Gates close in the brain, so it forgets any pain it’s had and focuses solely on the new pain. It tells the body to get weight off that area and to rest and heal. Compensation takes place, and starts causing pain on the other side. But the pain is so extreme in the injury that the brain doesn’t register anything except that.
Unless something is done, both sides can become injured.
Personal Note: Whenever I had a headache or something hurt, my Dad always asked me if I wanted him to stomp on my toe. Why? Because it would make the first pain stop, but then my toe would hurt. I never understood that until college.