Thursday, October 24, 2013

Muscle Imbalances - How to Prevent Pain and Injury

While exercise and endurance programs have numerous benefits, one downside is the threat of injury.  When a body is in motion for extended periods of time and works against added resistance, nagging problems with knees, hips, shoulders ad backs can result, often times caused by muscle imbalances.

Dr. Dirk Dolbeare, an orthopedic surgeon in Boulder, CO says, “A majority of musculoskeletal issues and injuries stem from underlying muscle imbalances. This causes pain in the joint, much the way tires will wear out on a care – one tire wears funny and throws them all out of balance. When one muscle is overly tight, the opposite muscle gets weak.”  Strengthening and stretching muscles can re-establish balance.

Wendy McClure, a personal trainer agrees that muscle imbalances are a preventable problem.  For example, weak glutes (butt muscles), tight iliotibal (IT) bands, and inner thighs that lack strength are common culprits that can cause knee or back pain.  “Fitness oriented people may have imbalances due to their sport. In cycling, the hip flexor works extremely hard coupled with a tight IT band (runs from your hip to below you knee) can result in knee pain. Sports create imbalances so identifying and strengthening specific muscles to prevent overuse can help,” states McClure.

Muscle imbalances can be corrected without always relying on drastic measures like surgery. Many times pain in particular areas like the knee can be symptomatic of one issue but could be the result of a muscle imbalance.  The first step is to see a medical professional and accurately have the issue diagnosed.

Beyond proper diagnosis and medical attention, there are other steps that can be taken to prevent or reverse problems called by muscle imbalances.  First, people should make sure that when conducting strength training, they are working all aspects of the body.  As McClure points out, “we already spend most of our lives on our anterior or front of our bodies.” Thus, more exercises should be done to strengthen the posterior or back side of our bodies including the glutes, traps, and delts. It’s all about creating a healthy balance in muscle strength.

Another way to prevent muscle imbalances is to adopt a cross training program. Pilates and yoga or anything that promotes core stability is a good place to start. Other cross training activities include TRX, Kangaroo Jumps and pool training.  Mixing up workouts and varying sports helps promote muscle balance.

Stretching is another excellent tool for preventing or reversing muscle imbalances. McClure argues that if elite level athletes have stretching programs, regular athletes and exercise enthusiasts should too.  People should consult a personal trainer to identify the correct stretches to address their issues.  Once identified, McClure  recommends on should hold a stretch for a minimum of 30 seconds as research shows that less than 30 seconds is not as effective.  Use of other tools such as a foam rollers and self-massage devises are also helpful.

With muscle imbalances the strong get stronger and the weak get weaker and you are only as strong as your weakest link. By adopting a full body strength training and stretching program you can not only prevent muscle imbalances but reverse current imbalances that may causing pain.

Here is to being fit for a lifetime!

Chris is a Certified Personal Trainer, exercise and endurance enthusiast.  He competes yearly in numerous running races, marathons, ultra marathons, triathlons and other endurance events.