Your muscles surround your joints and initiate, accelerate, decelerate and control your movements. In the meantime they act as shock absorbers, mitigating the impact to protect you from injury. To effectively and efficiently accomplish these essential tasks, they must work in groups referred to as agonists and antagonists. As the agonist initiates the movement, the antagonist exerts the required control. Muscle imbalances develop when one muscle group exceeds the strength of its opposing group. For example:
- Your biceps flex and your triceps extend your elbow: Most people can lift more weight during the biceps curl than the triceps extensions. This type of imbalance might cause elbow injuries.
- Your hamstrings bend and your quadriceps extend your knee: Hamstring/quad imbalances are common among women, and make them susceptible to knee injuries such as ACL ligament tears.
- Your abdominal muscles flex your spine, and your appropriately-named erector spinae muscles extend it. You hunch over your computer all day long, then you go to the gym and perform 100s of crunches Wonder you have a slouching problem? On the other hand, if your back muscles do all the work and your core muscles never help out, you are setting yourself up for back problems.
- Your rhomboids pull your scapula toward your spine, while your pectoral muscles support movement in the opposite direction. The result? More slouching.
- Your deltoids lift your arms and your latissimus dorsi lower them. Most folks can lift more weight on the lateral raise than the lat pull-down machine. Exaggerate the imbalance, and you become susceptible to rotator cuff tears.
- Your abductors draw your leg away from your body’s center, and your adductor moves it toward your center. Weak inner thighs create unstable knees, subject to MCL tears.
- Plantar flexion points your toes toward the floor and dorsi-flexion curls your toes toward your shins: Swimmers tend toward stronger plantar flexion, whereas runners favor dorsi-flexion. These imbalances leave dancers vulnerable to ankle sprains and tears.
Identifying the Imbalance
Whilst muscle imbalances might trigger certain types of injuries, in some cases, it’s the injury itself that causes the imbalances. In most cases, it turns into one of those chicken or egg dilemmas. You need the help of a professional in order to sort it all out.
Since your body has ways of adapting to different conditions, many people don’t realize that they have significant strength discrepancies between muscle groups until they incur a serious injury. If you sense that something is just not quite right, your sports physiotherapist, through a series of sophisticated postural analysis tools and muscle testing devices, can help you identify the imbalance and devise a proper course of training to correct it.
In a previous article, we discussed the type of exercises a personal trainer might prescribe to correct muscle imbalances. Physiotherapists take this one step further by prescribing a series of movement patterns to help you correct muscle strength discrepancies. This is important, a muscular imbalance causes you to move in a way that perpetuates the problem. Changing your habitual movement patterns is the only way to truly correct the problem.
Are You At Risk?
If you spend your day hunched over your desk or caring for an infant, you probably have some sort of muscular imbalance. Athletes, however, have highly specific risks:
- Bodybuilders tend to favor their pectoral and biceps muscles, and neglect their triceps and rhomboids.
- Baseball pitchers, tennis players, bowlers, golfers or anyone who practices a unilateral sport will develop one side more than the other
- Ballet dancers who dance on pointe usually develop their plantar flexors more than their dors-flexors
Get back in balance. Contact your physiotherapist at Happy Physio today! Call (08) 9272 7359!