by Stacy Choquette, PTA
Why does my low back hurt if I have an injury in my knee? I have heard this question along with many different versions regularly throughout my years as a PTA. Why do other parts of our bodies become achy or painful when we have an injury in a different location? Well, as the saying goes, “your shin bone is connected to your thigh bone.” Everything in our bodies is connected; hence when you have an injury, other parts of your body can become indirectly affected. This is especially common when the injuries are in your lower extremities.
Think about how much you are on your feet or walking throughout the day. If you have a foot or ankle injury that is painful you may begin to limp. At first this is a way for your body to help relieve some of the pain by reducing weight bearing on that ankle. At the same time, you are changing your body mechanics to correct this discomfort by compensating and utilizing your legs in a different way. Over time this can put stress on other joints and begin to create an irritation from poor mechanics. The longer you persist with these poor mechanics will greatly increase the chances of you having same sided knee, hip or low back pain.
It is also common to feel some discomfort on the opposite side when you have an injury in your hip region. If movement in the hip joint is painful or challenging, people will compensate for by listing to the opposite side when walking. If you’re not evenly distributing your weight between both legs and are focusing on “the good” leg, this will put more stress and pressure on those joints as they will be working twice as hard. This again will cause an overuse to that hip and if prolonged, you may begin to have discomfort in the “good hip” too.
When it comes to treating pain from compensation, some gentle stretching and correcting your body mechanics are the best solution. Your Physical Therapist can give you a home program and some education on how to restore your function. When treating in Physical Therapy the focus of treatment will be on the actual injury and not the pain from compensation. As clinicians we know that once we correct the injury and body mechanics are restored, the pain from compensating will go away. What is the moral of the story? Seek medical attention by your MD or PT for an injury before you let it go on too long. If you keep putting it off, you may end up battling double the pain!
Stacy Choquette is a PTA at Boston Sports Medicine