Doctor's Blog

Your _________ hurts, but is your ________ REALLY the problem?

General (insert body part here) pain, soreness or achiness is a common problem among weightlifters, CrossFitters, and athletes in general. But just because something is “common,” it doesn’t mean that it is “normal.” So, unless you’ve had a specific acute traumatic injury or a previous history of significant injury to that area, your “part” is probably hurting because it is compensating for a deficiency somewhere else along your kinetic chain. Before we move onto what may be causing your _______ pain, let’s cover the why first.

Your body is REALLY good at compensating if something isn’t working right.

In your body, if one part of the kinetic chain is not able to function properly, for whatever reason, other areas will need to pick up the slack (so to speak), and work harder than they normally would to make up for the area of dysfunction. Over time, these compensations will lead to what you are perceiving to be the problem, i.e. “shoulder pain.” This is a concept called “Regional Interdependence” which refers to the concept that seemingly unrelated impairments or dysfunctions in a remote anatomical region may be causing, or at least contributing to your area that is painful.

Pain = problem, but not necessarily the cause of the problem.

Pain ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS means that you have a problem, somewhere. It’s your body’s way of telling you there’s a problem. However, pain is only telling your brain what hurts (remember, you are your brain). It is not necessarily telling you what is causing that part to hurt. Pain is also telling your brain to “protect this part before the problem gets worse.” Your brain does that by creating compensations in the way your body moves when something hurts.

So now that you understand the basics of why, we can begin to assess your kinetic chain to find the area of real dysfunction, and begin working to fix the real problem. When dealing with upper body problems, we almost always begin with assessing the spine, and moving out and down the kinetic chain. When dealing with lower body problems, we almost always begin with assessing the feet, and moving up the kinetic chain. Of course, if there is an acute traumatic injury, and/or an established mechanism of injury (MOI), we assess and treat accordingly – but getting deeper into that is not in the spirit of this article.

As we move along the kinetic chain, we follow a model that was developed and used by Gray Cook and Mike Boyle: the joint-by-joint model of assessment and rehabilitation, which is based on regional interdependence. “The body works in an alternating pattern of stable segments connected by mobile joints. If this pattern is altered – dysfunction and compensation will occur.” (Cook)

Simply defined, the joint-by-joint model states that if a certain joint/region is supposed to be functionally stable, then the adjacent joints/regions need to be functionally mobile, and vice versa. For example, your knee needs to be stable, and the adjacent joints, the ankle and the hip, need to be mobile. If you have been to one of our workshops, you’ve seen us explain this in greater detail. So you can get the big picture today, here’s the basics of what you need to know: Foot = stable; Ankle = mobile; Knee = stable; Hip = mobile; Lumbopelvic Complex = stable; Thoracic Spine = mobile; Cervical Spine = stable; Scapulothoracic Articulation = stable; Shoulder (glenohumeral joint) = mobile; Elbow = stable; Wrist = mobile. Those are the BASICS. The next step is to integrate the appropriate stability/mobility self-care work into your training program in the form of specific exercises and stretches. We’ll cover that in more detail in future posts specific to each part, so bookmark this article for future reference because I will be building on these concepts moving forward.

OF COURSE you ALWAYS need to take any advice that you read on the internet with a grain of salt, and do your own due diligence in research to apply it to your specific needs. OR you could just seek out the advice of a trained professional to assess your own unique situation and put together a plan that will get you back in the game better, faster, stronger, and for longer.


Dr. Headlee