When we first get injured our bodies change the way we move to protect the injured site from more damage. Pain is a way the body communicates that something isn’t right. If we twist our ankle, the pain is meant to tell us that we did something worth paying attention to.
We limp as a way to protect our ankle. If we kept adding full weight on it right after the injury, it could get worse and delay healing. In the beginning, there’s not much that can be done to stop compensations other than using crutches or a sling for the upper body. We can also stop moving entirely but that tends to do more harm than good.
The longer we limp, the body will start shifting to adjust to this new walking pattern. The problem is that it’s less efficient so you’ll start having pain in areas that are being stressed the most from the new way of walking. An injury to the upper body will also cause compensations. Hurting your shoulder can cause you to avoid specific motions that you need to do that could cause your neck to start hurting.
The best way to make sure compensations don’t last long is to start the rehab as soon as the body is ready for the next step. The compensations are easier to “undo” early than if you waited too long. The problem with limping is when it continues longer than it needs to.
When do you know when your body is ready? That depends on how severe the injury was, but usually, there’s always something small you can do to start the process.
While the word compensation seems like a bad thing, it’s a necessary part of the healing process. What you don’t want is for it to completely change how you move for too long.