Muscle imbalance

The human body is an extremely efficient machine when all areas are working together in a coordinated way. All structures in the body have to cope with load and if everything is working well this is absorbed and dealt with without any consequences. For a wide variety of reasons this system can mal-function and when this happens some muscles and joints become overloaded and painful. This always happens over a period of time as initially the overloaded tissue absorbs the extra load. However, this situation cannot continue indefinitely and sooner or later pain develops.

How does it start?

Often with hindsight it is obvious that something was in the pipeline as tissues under excessive load may in the early stages be painful or stiff after activity. A typical scenario is pain developing after an increase in training volume or a change in training such as adding hill runs. Other examples would be shoulder pain persisting after a minor contact injury. These types of injuries are termed “overuse injuries” and are the most common reason for sports injuries. Common problems such as “hamstring strain” and “Achilles tendonitis” seem to get better with rest but invariably return when activities are resumed. This scenario will keep repeating itself because the movement pattern is wrong. The symptoms will often get progressively worse and won’t settle down until the underlying problem is corrected.

How do we fix this problem?

The scenario with over-use injuries is one of over-working and under-working structures. In order to fix the problem permanently we need to identify which structures are not working hard enough. A specific programme can then be devised to correct the imbalance so that all the relevant structures are “pulling together”. By doing this no one structure is dealing with too much load.

The “overuse” scenario is not just applicable to sports injuries. On-going neck and upper back pain connected with sitting at a desk is another example of this. In this instance the muscles that control the head which are deep within the neck become progressively weaker due to bad sitting habits. Because the head needs to be supported all day your brain recruits “helper” muscles to compensate. The “helper” muscles are usually the ones that become tender and painful. Massage will help these sore muscles in the short term but the pain will always return until the deep neck muscles start to work correctly. The solution is to correct the problem at source by improving the function of the deep neck muscles thereby removing the need for the upper shoulders to overwork in the first place.

Stranmilllis Physiotherapy