If you’re not sure exactly what muscle imbalances are, don’t worry—you’re not alone. Many people who may actually suffer from muscle imbalances don’t know what they are either. However, it’s important to be aware of muscle imbalances so that you can recognize the symptoms before they worsen or become chronic.
Muscles initiate, slow down, and control the movements of our bones. They usually do this symmetrically in pairs or as part of a coordinated group. However, if some muscles or muscle groups tire unevenly because of prolonged activity, they may become fatigued or damaged and unable to do their jobs effectively. When muscles lose their strength, flexibility and endurance asymmetrically (on one side or in one area of the body), muscle imbalance can be the result. When balance is lost, there can be a number of painful and hazardous consequences.
Athletes such as tennis players, golfers, or baseball players are at particular risk for muscle imbalances. This is because their sports require them to use a dominant side to throw or swing. Gym and weight-training enthusiasts can also develop muscle imbalances by depending on their naturally dominant side to support their exercises and lifts.
However, the conception that muscle imbalances only occur in athletes is false. In fact, muscle imbalances can be caused by wide range of factors, usually involving limited joint mobility or instability and weakness of a muscle group. This occurs most often when an individual overworks a muscle group and underworks its opposing muscle group. Everyday tasks such as lifting a child repeatedly or sitting in the same position in front of the computer for hours can sometimes be to blame.
While there are a number of potential muscle imbalances, three of the most common ones are known as the anterior pelvic tilt, rounded shoulders, and loss of hip mobility.
- The anterior pelvic tilt occurs when the front of the pelvis is tilted forward. This can be caused by a combination of tight hip flexors and lats or a weakening of the deep core stabilizers, such as the transverse abdominis muscle. Since many Americans sit for the greater part of their day, it is more than likely that their hip flexors have become shortened.
- Rounded shoulders are easy to spot and a posture screen can verify this condition quite quickly. To correct this imbalance, one would need to strengthen the muscles of the upper back as well as the back side of the shoulder.
- Loss of hip mobility is typically due to lack of movement, and like the other imbalances, it can be helped by performing corrective exercises prescribed to you by your chiropractor or other medical professional.
A muscle imbalance can pull joints out of position and place a great deal of strain on them. When that strain stresses the nerves around the joint, you will often feel pain. If your body adapts to the imbalance (by compensating to avoid the discomfort associated with the condition), other sets of muscles can become imbalanced as well, and a vicious cycle can ensue. A seemingly insignificant, localized problem in some muscles can become a neuromuscular-skeletal issuethat affects seemingly unrelated parts of your body.
Left unaddressed, muscle imbalances can also lead to other unpleasant symptoms and conditions, including, but not limited to, lower back pain, facet joint and ligament strain, slipped discs, shoulder impingement and rotator cuff tendonitis, headaches and neck pain, trapped nerves, sports injuries, hamstring tears, and knee pain. If you suspect you may have a muscle imbalance, it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible to keep a small problem from becoming a big one.