You are training hard. You are motivated. On a mission. You’re getting great results, people compliment you on how fit you look. Secretly you like it a little bit when friends say things like ‘you’re crazy’.
Then it all comes tumbling down. You have an injury. And it just won’t go away.
Most non-impact soft tissue injuries originate with a muscle imbalance. And blindly following an exercise program can actually be one of the worst things you can do.
For efficient and ‘healthy’ movement, bones need to be centralised in their respective joints. This relies on the activity level, or the length and strength, of the muscles acting on each bone being balanced.
Muscles work in pairs that have opposite actions. There is a muscle that bends your elbow, so there is a muscle that straightens your elbow. So that you don’t have to constantly overpower your own muscles, when one muscle gets switched on, the opposite muscle gets switched off (inhibited).
If one muscle is used excessively it becomes over active. This means the opposing muscle will become under active.
This is a muscle imbalance and it will alter our static posture, the way we move and if it becomes severe enough it will result in injury.
There are 2 causes identified as contributing to muscle imbalances:
- Biomechanical: repeated movements in one direction or sustained postures.
- Neuromuscular: predisposition or certain muscles to be short or weak based on movement patterns that evolved from birth.
For example, the hip flexors bends your hip joint, the Glute muscle straighten (extend) your hip joint. You use your hip flexors when you walk, sit, ride, swim, run and for ‘abdominal’ exercises like planks. You don’t necessarily use your glute muscles during these activities.
A hip flexor that is over active, relative to the Glute, will not allow the hip joint to rotate normally nor fully extend. This will result in excessive stress on the hip joint and leg muscles.
If you stretch both the hip flexors and gluts equally, you simply maintain the imbalance.
If you strengthen the hip flexors and gluts equally, you simply maintain the imbalance.
In order to survive we have developed the ability to compensate for injury or dysfunction. If one muscle group doesn’t work, we simply ‘borrow’ from other muscles. This is why certain muscles become overloaded.
If some joints lack normal movement, we borrow movement from other joints.
This is why some joints become excessively mobile or ‘unstable’.
The more activity we do, the more strongly we cement the imbalance and compensatory movement patterns.
Consequently the fastest way to turn a muscle imbalance into an injury is training!
Often injuries occur in the area that is the ‘victim’ of the imbalance. In the above example, it’s easy for the low back to be strained as it compensates for Glute muscles that aren’t doing their job. Treatment will be directed at the back pain, aggravating activities will be stopped or decreased, then once the pain stops, normal activity is resumed. The root cause of the injury is very rarely addressed properly, which means the problem will very likely reoccur.
Many athletes’ careers have ended due to chronic or reoccurring injury.