Each joint in our body is surrounded by muscle pairs that aid and control movement. One is responsible for pulling, and one is responsible for pushing - while one (the agonist) contracts, the other (the antagonist) relaxes to allow full joint motion.
Everybody has a naturally dominant side but when the muscles on one side of a joint become too tight from overuse, or too weak from underuse, a muscle imbalance occurs. This might sound as simple as having a deltoid or a bicep that’s a bit bigger than the other, but muscle imbalance often leads to excess strain being put through the weaker side, causing injuries, pain, limited mobility and, in some cases, an unbalanced physical appearance.
This is particularly prominent among competitive sportspersons with intensive exercise regimes, like marathon and ultra-marathon runners or long-distance cyclists, but can also affect work-related performance for those with sedentary or labour-intensive jobs.
Muscle imbalance can be a result of natural development but, among very active people, it is typically caused by exercising with improper form or an unbalanced, one-dimensional exercise regime.
One-dimensional training is very common - you might be a passionate runner or someone who is focusing on growing your glutes at the gym with a very lower-body-focused training programme - but this can be problematic as it specifically strengthens one muscle group (the antagonists), leaving the agonist weakened and at risk of injury.
Training is hugely beneficial in supporting physical movement and mobility but if too much focus is put on certain muscle groups while others are neglected, or you adopt poor form then it can lead to a muscle imbalance.
If you work in an office role, or are someone who spends much of the day looking down at a device or slumped on the sofa then you could also be affected by muscle imbalance. Poor posture or inactivity among people with sedentary lifestyles causes the muscles in your shoulders and chest to shorten and the muscles in the back to lengthen and weaken. Reduced activity can also cause the hip flexors to tighten while simultaneously weakening opposing muscles, like the hamstrings and glutes. Neglecting and weakening these muscle groups can then cause an imbalance that leads to pain or injury.
Among active and sedentary people, the most commonly-affected areas are the hips, shoulders, and knees. Signs like pain that has connection to a specific injury, or a noticeable difference in strength, flexibility and balance on one side of the body can indicate that you have a muscle imbalance but the best way to be sure is to undergo a screening.
At West 1 we have developed a precise and comprehensive screening tool, which uses tests, observed activity and technology to detect muscle imbalance in the body and prevent further pain and injury.
During a screening, one of our experienced physiotherapists will observe the way your joints move through their normal functional range. In doing so we’re able to identify where the muscle weaknesses lie and offer a treatment plan and exercises that help to correct the problem area, and reduce the stress put on vulnerable parts of your body to prevent injury and pain.
For athletes or very active people, a muscle imbalance screening is guaranteed to improve your performance and is scientifically proven to reduce the risk of injury. By identifying weaknesses in your joints and muscle groups, we can provide guidance on how best to alter or enhance your training plan to ensure any imbalances are rectified and your function and overall performance are improved.
To complement this, we would also recommend osteopathic appointments every once in a while to act as a ‘pre-covery’ t before problems arise. This will help to realign your form by moving, stretching and massaging the muscles and joints, and we can provide supplementary exercises to prevent issues evolving into an injury or a more serious problem in the future.
Simple changes, like mixing up your training regime to integrate some exercises that target neglected muscle groups will help to address imbalances in the short term and prevent future muscle imbalance.
For people with more sedentary lifestyles, a screening will help identify the areas of weakness so we can provide a training plan and offer guidance to help rectify the imbalance and prevent pain or injury in the long-term.
In the interim, simple interventions like setting an hourly reminder to get up and move, or adjust your posture will help you reset and activate the neglected muscles.
At West 1 we understand that pain and injury can impact your physical performance when training but can also have a knock-on effect to your mental wellbeing and how you go about your day-to-day activities.
Whether you have an intensive training schedule coming up - like training for the London Marathon - or you simply suspect there’s an imbalance from your current training programme or sedentary lifestyle, then contact us today to arrange a muscle imbalance screening so we can get you on the road to recovery and help optimise your performance.