Structural Imbalance. We often hear this phrase used along with the diagnosis of our aches and pains. But what does it mean? The best way to explain it is to start from the opposite end, “Structural Balance”.
Structural Balance refers to the optimal positioning of our bones and joints. This means when weight or pressure it applied that part of the body, it is effectively passed through the “structures”, e.g. bones and joints. These structures are design to hold weight well in a particular direction and not so great in other directions. Structural imbalance is simply when bones and joints are not in their optimal position when weight is applied.*
Take for example, your shin bone (or tibia). It is designed to hold weight directed from one end to the other. If weight is pressed on the middle of the bone, it breaks easily. Which is why we can carry very heavy weights but when kicked hard at our shins, our bone breaks rather easily.
Similarly for our joints where two bones meet, they work best when they glide or move in a certain direction (or plane). Most joints like those in our elbow and knee move back and forth in a single plane. Others like our shoulder and hip have more degrees of freedom.
When the structures are balanced, weight is passed along the direction where the bone is strongest and pressure on the joint is on the plane of movement. This is the most ideal position. Stress is most evenly spread out.
When the structures are not balanced, stress is not evenly spread out. One side or the other is bearing more weight. Structural imbalance can be caused by damaged structures (such as worn out joints, and torn or lax ligaments) or by something pulling the structure out of place like tight muscle.
When structures are imbalanced, they tend to start a vicious cycle causing the condition to get worse and worse if left unmanaged. For example, if the imbalance is caused by a worn out joints, the resulting uneven stress will further wear out the joint increasing the imbalance.
It is important to understand that imbalanced structures themselves are not painful. Most adults have some degree of joint degeneration or the other but don’t feel any pain. This is simply part of the ageing process.
But they can lead to pain when nerves to be pinched as the space between the joints narrow from being worn out, when they affect the circulatory system around the joint or when the muscles are strained supporting the bone to hold it in a balanced position. This is why structural imbalance is often picked up when diagnosis your aches and pains.
* structural imbalance is not relevant when no weight is applied. This is why astronauts who spend a significant amount of time in space lose bone mass.