Have you ever heard the term, “compensation injury” and wondered what it meant? If you thought it meant an injury you get paid or compensated for, sorry, that’s not it.
Steven Erickson, MD, a sports medicine specialist with Banner – University Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Institute in Phoenix, Arizona, sees all types of musculoskeletal injuries and shared with us his knowledge and expertise on compensation injuries.
Question: What is a “compensation injury?”
Erickson: A compensation, or secondary, injury is when one injury leads to another. Compensation following an acute musculoskeletal injury is a natural attempt by your body to continue to function so that you can still play or just perform activities of daily living. The human body tries to “compensate” for an injury because bones, muscles and tissue are all connected and designed to work together. When one piece of that puzzle isn’t performing correctly, the other parts jump in and try to over-perform to make up for it.
Question: What is an example of a compensation, or secondary, injury?
Erickson: An example, to illustrate this phenomenon, is running with a “bum” knee. Because your knee isn’t properly functioning, you are relying on other body parts in a way they aren’t meant to be used or putting undue stress on them, which can then cause those body parts to become injured.
Question: What are some of the more common types of compensation injuries?
Erickson: Some of the more common types of compensation injuries I see in my practice are:
- Lower back or hip pain starting after a foot or ankle injury because the lower back and hips are picking up some of the work of the foot or ankle.
- Sore upper back from using your trapezius muscle to raise your arm, instead of your injured shoulder.
- Your right knee starts hurting after the meniscus in your left knee is torn, because the right knee is doing the work of the injured left knee.
Question: Can I avoid getting a compensation injury?
Erickson: You absolutely can prevent further injury after an initial injury. After the initial injury, seek immediate care. Your doctor may provide you with aids, like crutches for an injured ankle, that will not only help your ankle heal more quickly but will also prevent compensation injuries. However, it is possible to use compensation mechanisms for too long. When this happens, you may need physical therapy to not only rehabilitate the initial injury but to reteach the body to stop using compensation mechanisms and restore the body’s natural biomechanics.
If you’re currently pushing forward despite pain, you could be at risk of a compensation injury. Schedule an exam with a Banner Health expert and start treatment for your injury.