Understanding Muscular Imbalance
A short while back, we wrote about “Structural Imbalance“. A related issue is muscular imbalance. Muscles usually work in pairs or more to hold a joint or bone in place. In place, being to mean structurally balanced.
When one of the muscles is either too strong or too weak, it becomes difficult to hold the joint in place. It is common to have these two condition together when you experience muscular-skeletal pain.Either imbalance can lead to the other.
Take for example in frequent gym goers who only stomach crunches or sit-ups because they want to have good looking abs. But don’t exercise as much the lower back muscles. This leads to very strong muscles in the front of the tummy area but relatively weaker back of the tummy muscle. This lead to a slightly hunched forward posture.* Over time, the slouched or hunched posture places additional strain on the lower back and wear out the joints in the spine. So a muscular imbalance over time led to a structural imbalance. Muscular imbalance can also occur from training in specific sports which place a lot of emphasis on a particular movement and hence specific muscles such as cycling.
When structural imbalance occurs, muscular imbalance typically follows. When a joint is worn out, it is usually more so in one area. This uneven wearing out of the joint causes the bone to lean or move toward a specific direction away from the ideal plane of movement. One set of muscles in this case must work harder to pull the bone back into the ideal plane. This one muscle over time becomes strained and more prone to injury
The solution to correcting this muscular imbalance is to strengthen the weaker muscle. In theory, you could weaken the strong muscle to balance things out but then your overall ability to bear the strain is lower.
A common mistake at this stage is to do more exercise overall when the solution is exercise specific muscles more. Or in case of extremely tight muscles like for cyclist and tight ITBs, they should seek massages to release the tension.
* This scenario is quite common amongst amateur body builders who tend to over emphasise chest and abdominal exercises. Such body builders have the posture of an ape with the shoulders rolled forward and a slight downward hunch. Professional body builders know to avoid this and work the opposing back muscles equally hard to maintain a symmetrical posture.