Muscle imbalance refers to the condition when your muscles on one side of the joint have higher or lower strength and length as compared to the muscles on the other side of the joint. The condition can be severe and limit your movement and range of motion. It can happen due to many reasons. For example, during exercise, you may use your naturally dominant side of the body to lift a heavy load. As a result, the opposing muscles develop an imbalance in terms of strength and length.
Muscle imbalance is also developed due to our abnormal physical activities. Think of any daily lifestyle habits, for example. People tend to use their dominant side of the body to perform daily functions. As a result, their opposite muscles fail to catch up with the strength and length of the dominant part. Weaker and underdeveloped muscles as a result of muscle imbalance are at risk of injury and inflammation.
Common Muscle Imbalances
There are hundreds of muscles in your body that can develop muscle imbalance and leave you in pain and discomfort. However, you should also understand which types of muscles can become imbalanced, so you can effectively treat them. The two primary types of muscle imbalance are:
Muscle Imbalance of Joints
This type of imbalance occurs when the muscles on one side of your joint become weak, strong, tight, or loose as opposed to the muscles on the other side of your joint. As a result, the normal movement and functioning during an intense activity are greatly affected.
Muscle Imbalance of Body
If the strength and length of muscles on one side of your body either increase or decrease as compared to the muscles on the other side of the body, this condition is called muscle imbalance of the body. Due to body muscle imbalance, you may not be able to engage your weaker side of the body as often as the stronger side.
Sign You Have Muscle Imbalance
When it comes to daily activities, you may not notice a clear difference between the strength of one side of your muscles and the other. However, some activities are more demanding and require you to actively assess your performance. In the case of intense fitness activities like running, lifting, jumping, soccer and baseball, you need to tell whether there’s a muscle imbalance or not.
Muscle imbalance results in injury, pain, and severe discomfort. Here are a few symptoms of muscle imbalance:
- Knee pain
- Lower back pain
- Hamstring tears
- Slipped discs
- Neck pain
- Shoulder pain
Your physiotherapist can tell whether the symptoms are those of muscle imbalance. It depends on which part of your body is experiencing the condition and how the muscles move as a result of inflammation due to muscle imbalance.
How to Correct Muscle Imbalance?
There are many ways you can correct muscle imbalance. One of the best ways is to hit the gym and start exercising. However, these workouts should be targetted at one side of your body at a time. For example, do glute bridges and deadlifts that are focused on a single leg.
Tips on how to perform these muscle balance exercises for maximum benefit and correct your muscle imbalance:
Focus on the weaker side
As you’ve been using your strong side mostly, now is the time to try your weaker side. You’ll be able to tell the difference between the two sides of your body. Use your weak side, for example, by doing bicep with your left arm, if you’re right-handed. This will engage the correct group of muscles, thus improving their strength and power.
Lift light weights
Now that you’ve started using your weak side of the body, don’t overburden them. The weaker muscles are not as developed as those on your stronger side. It’s better to do workouts and lift weights that are light enough for your weaker sides to handle.
Engage both sides equally
While you may be tempted to give your right side some extra challenge, however, that’s not something you should be looking for. For example, do the same number of reps on both sides of your body. If your weaker side is unable to catch up with your stronger side, pause for a moment and then finish off your reps.
What Causes Muscle Imbalance?
To properly perform your daily work and fitness activities, your body needs to be in perfect condition. Not only should you have the correct posture but also a balance in your body. If you’ve weak muscles on one side of the body while stronger muscles on the other side, this can be quite problematic. You may be vulnerable to muscle injury and joint inflammation. One of the best ways to reduce muscle imbalance is to understand the root cause of it. Here are a few pointers to help you identify what causes this condition.
Overuse of muscles – Different parts of our body work together. However, some movements are so repetitive in nature that they cause imbalance. These repetitive movements cause certain muscles to be overused, while others remain non-working for some time.
How to avoid:
Muscle imbalance due to overuse of muscles can be avoided by identifying your activities. If you have a work routine, habit, or exercise activity that uses some specific muscles most often, try breaking the pattern. Instead, start using the other parts of your body that can off-set the negative effects of muscle imbalance.
Sedentary lifestyle – With the advancement in technology, most people are becoming sedentary. They are not using certain muscles in their body that are crucial for normal functioning. For example, if you drive most often, your hips are flexed. This causes the muscles responsible for hip flexion to become shortened. And that’s when the problem starts. The shortened hip flexions change the way your hip joints move.
How to avoid:
You may need to take some time off driving. Use your time standing up and walking so you can stretch your hip flexions and improve your muscle imbalance.
Unidirectional exercises – Many exercises are limited to a single, uni-directional plane of motion, which can set you up for muscle imbalance. Our bodies are designed to move in multi-directions. However, when you restrict your motion in a certain way, other parts of the body don’t fully develop. Some examples of unidirectional exercises are crunches, bicep curls, and squats, etc.
How to avoid:
Shift your exercises from unidirectional types to multidirectional. These exercises will help your weaker parts to activate and catch up with the dominant side of the body. To avoid muscle imbalance, consider movements like pushing and rotation in different directions.
Improper posture – People who slouch forward or have bad posture habits are at risk of developing muscle imbalance. Not only does a poor posture cause pain but it also shortens certain groups of muscles – while lengthening the others – which causes imbalance.
How to avoid:
You can use posture correctors to straighten your rounded shoulders and balance your muscles. Along with using back braces, you can also get a straight, upright posture by doing a high plank, chest opener, and side plank, etc.
Muscle imbalance can be annoying. Pay attention to your muscles and different parts of the body. Pain, improper posture, and inflammation are your best guides to help you identify whether you have a muscle imbalance. Most daily routine activities can also cause certain muscles of your body to become short and weak. If you’re doing certain activities for a long time without changing anything, now might be the time to break the cycle and train with your other, weaker muscles of the body.