Why Compensate: The 4 Types of Tissue Compensation

imagesCAK79GHC1.       Tissue Tightness, Tension & Tone:

The four corners of the dreaded “T.” Tightness, tension and tone often become interchangeable when discussing a lack of mobility in tissue, yet they are vastly different things bio mechanically.

  • Tension: Whenever you train a movement pattern, the tissue (muscles and fascia) retains the tension generated by the degree, direction, range and load and is specific to the tissues used.
  • Tightness is usually determined by a lack of tissue length. Take the hamstrings for instance; during the (ASLR) active straight leg raise screen if a person scores a 1 or 2 actively, we then check the muscle length through the passive range. If the client till cannot straighten their leg or score higher; we can assume the hamstring tissue is tight.
  • Tone: However, if the client has improved range in the passive hamstring test, and can indeed reach the optimal 70 degrees, then this is most likely not a muscle length issue, but one of too

much tone in the tissue (tightness in the resting state of muscle) and a lack of motor control.

2.       Myofascial Restriction/ Density:

Deep fascia are layers of dense fibrous connective tissue that interpenetrates and surrounds muscles, bone, nerves and blood vessels of the human body. It provides connection and communication in the form of tendons, ligaments, aponeuroses, retinacula, septa, and joint capsules. It encompasses bones and nerves and is the nervous systems transportation highway.

Our fascia also has the capability to initiate relaxation. Deep fascia can relax rapidly in response to sudden muscular reaction or rapid movement, this ensures that the tissue does not tear and limitis end range response. When we neglect to release residual tension from our fascia, the pre-tense tissue lays down collagenous fibers to make it easier to maintain, which substitutes for muscle activation. It is this collagen which gives it it’s strength and integrity, but when there is an increase in tension the fascia bag increases in thickness as a counter measure to limit movement and effort. Thus resulting in compensation. This diminishes mobility.

3.       Sensory Motor Amnesia/ Motor Control:

Sensory Motor Amnesia (“SMA”) is a term introduced by Thomas Hanna, the inventor of Somatics.  SMA occurs when inefficient patterns of muscular activation become so habitual you can’t sense or control them due to the nature of habit. For example, those who have desk jobs or spend many hours seated often struggle with neck and shoulder pain. Part of this is because of the nature of their job and thus have forgotten how to relax tissue such as the neck, low back and shoulders, and thus we often see a concurrent concern with the inactivity of engagement or how to activate muscles like the glutes or “core.”

This leads to weakness, inefficiency, poor coordination and eventually pain.When tissue can’t move through a particular range or degree of direction, our connective tissue/ fascia web adapts and reacts by reducing biofeedback and innervation of the tissue. This means less of the muscle is activated and less of the nervous systems signals make it to the desired tissue to result in the desired movement pattern. If left dormant too long, the tissue can start to develop protective mechanisms to avoid any and all movement. This can result in bio mechanical compensations and dysfunction, which can lead to injury.

Somatic Yoga and Corrective Movement are two modes of rehabilitation which have showed significant success and are designed take your body goes through all the subtle little movements you have unconsciously avoided for years. It takes precise concentration and attention to recover them without “cheating” or deviating into a compensatory pattern.  After the movement is recovered, it is integrated back into your movement patterns, leading to increases in performance and reductions in pain.

4.       Fear – Reactivity:

This is a great term, which I first came across in Scott Sonnon’s TacFit course. It relates to the tissue’s inability to recover and recoordinate itself to its true resting and activation state. It’s defensive in nature, where muscles and tissue develop measures to protect itself from moving into an unknown, dormant capacity. Tissue will react by bracing, shaking, flinching or freezing because of the fear associated with long term forgotten movement potential. Our muscles can then start to atrophy, adipose tissue can accumulate and our fascia can thicken. Compensation can come in the form of pain, injury, increased tone or inability to move as you once could. This fear then becomes embedded in the muscle memory system and can be more than just a physical issue, but then a mental and emotional one as well, which could lead you to not pursue your goals or aspirations.

All 4 of these compensations must be carefully monitored. We must stay under the radar of the signs so that we can counter balance and not reinforce compensatory patterns. The more we move, the better we feel and the more we see not just our gym time, but our profession, our daily activities as “movement” as well the easier it will be to provide functional balance to our integrated system.

About the Author: Sarah Jamieson

Sarah Jamieson has written 155 posts on this site.

Sarah is the owner and head movement coach at Moveolution; a Vancouver based consulting company focused on the integration of movement and recovery science. Bridging the gaps between the clinical and performance fields Sarah’s passion stems from lifelong passion of Yoga, Jujitsu, and Qi Gong; which she integrates into her coaching practice. She is a full time social change maker, a ‘run-a-muker’ of everything outdoors and repeatedly engages in random acts of compassion.

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