Any physical activity, if performed improperly, will have many negative repercussions on the body. Stretching and strengthening exercises (during warm-up and cool-down routine) are one of the essential components that should be incorporated into a comprehensive workout regimen to minimise such impact. Besides preventing injury, they also enhance performance and post-workout recovery, among other things. Muscle imbalance is one of the painful consequences of not stretching and strengthening your muscles in a balanced manner.
Lack of knowledge is one of the main reasons why people develop muscular imbalance despite a regular workout regimen. A less strenuous activity such as walking, for instance, can lead to muscle imbalance, says KN Arunjyothi, a physiotherapist from Kochi, Kerala.
“Most of the people who walk as an exercise without stretching have a tight calf or hamstring muscle because of muscle imbalance, while other muscles weaken or lengthen,” adds Arunjyothi. “This imbalance can elevate into postural problems and raise the possibility of injury.”
What is muscle imbalance?
“Muscles or muscle groups envelope each bone and joint differently,” says Dr HA Ashitha, hemophilia physiotherapist at Government District Hospital, Palakkad, Kerala. “Usually, a movement occurs when two muscle groups around a particular joint act in opposition to one another.”
Dr Ashitha gives an example of elbow movement to explain the contraction and elongation of opposing muscles.
“The biceps are the muscles engaged in bending the elbow. The muscles contract [shorten] during the action. The triceps must elongate to aid in shortening the opposite muscle [biceps]. One is supposed to be contracting, and the other is supposed to be elongating simultaneously.”
An imbalance in strength, flexibility or size between the opposing muscle groups or various muscles within a particular group is referred to as muscular imbalance. It happens when the pressure being pushed on a joint is unbalanced. As a result, some muscles become stronger or tighter than others.
Causes of muscular imbalance
Muscular imbalance can result from repetitive movements or exercises that focus primarily on using specific muscles while neglecting others.
“Overuse of one muscle and very less usage of the opposite muscle will give you imbalance. That is because of the strength difference. If you are only training your biceps, your triceps lose their strength. Imbalance comes in thereafter,” says Dr Ashitha.
An inactive lifestyle and bad posture can also contribute to muscle imbalance. Physical inactivity such as prolonged sitting can leave some muscles underdeveloped and weak, while tightening and shortening others. Having a bad posture for a prolonged period can cause imbalances in the muscles that support the spine.
♦ Pain and discomfort: An imbalance in muscle strength and flexibility may cause pain or discomfort in the affected area. This might involve overall muscle soreness or fatigue as well as isolated pain in muscles, joints or tendons.
“Back pain is common in case of muscle imbalance,” says Dr Ashitha. “The natural alignment and movement patterns of the spine can be disrupted when some muscles are stronger or tighter than others, resulting in back pain.”
♦ Postural irregularities: Muscular imbalance can cause postural deviations, such as forward head posture, rounded shoulders and an anterior pelvic tilt. The body may adopt unfavourable postures as a result of these imbalances.
The alignment and stability of the body can be disrupted when a few muscles are overactive or underactive.
“For example, a person who spends their entire workday in front of a computer may have rounded shoulders,” says Arunjyothi. “Those who lift weights may have a forward-hunched posture, while teachers who stand all day without properly transferring their weight may develop pelvic imbalances.”
How to correct muscle imbalance
Unlike arteries, veins, nerves or bones, you can work on developing your muscles at any age, which makes it easy to correct muscle imbalance.
Stretching along with strengthening exercises, targeting the tight or shortened muscles contributing to the imbalance, is an effective technique to correct muscle imbalance. You can devise a customised stretching regimen that fits your unique needs and rectifies muscular imbalance by consulting with a qualified healthcare or fitness expert.
“Along with stretching the overused muscles, joint movements such as rotation of the joints, bending and extending of the elbow or knee, hip rotations, etc. are essential,” says Dr Ashitha. “Muscle imbalance can be corrected by weight training each muscle separately. However, you must begin with the lowest weight and focus on repetitions, maintaining form. Once you can do it, you can lower the reps and increase the weight, which will give strength to the muscle.”
- Muscle imbalance is caused when differences in size, strength or flexibility develops between opposing muscle groups or different muscles within a particular group.
- Pain, discomfort and postural irregularities are common symptoms of muscle imbalance.
- Factors such as repetitive movements, a sedentary lifestyle and poor posture can result in muscular imbalance.
- Experts suggest strengthening and stretching exercises focusing on the affected area to get rid of muscle imbalance.