Walking the tightrope of good muscular balance
If you have been to a physio with an injury, you would have possibly heard that your 'muscles are imbalanced'. This imbalance was probably explained to be the cause of the pain you were having- whether it be postural pain, muscular injuries such as a strain or tendonitis, or joint irritation.
So what does this actually mean?
Let's start by looking at the reasons for pain.
Musculoskeletal pain (ie pain from muscles and joints) occurs in the presence of any nor or a combination of the following issues:
- Poor or abnormal joint biomechanics, altering the ideal way in which the body's joint, postures and muscles are to work
- Abnormal loads trough the tissues (muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia and the joints), causing them to become fatigued or irritated
- Abnormal movement patterns, again loading up some structures of your body more than others, causing them to become sore
- Altered and non ideal muscle activation patterns, again altering the best way we move or hold ourselves
So, how does any of this start?
When you look at a child who is free of pain, and watch them move as they play or sit as they eat, and they have the most stunning poise and posture. They way they move is uninhibited and as it should be. Their posture is held with balance across all of the muscles that need to work to hold their little bodies up. They have not yet been affected by positions of sitting all day like we adults, or sedentary lifestyle or bad postural habits.
You could say that their muscles are 'balanced.'
As we become accustomed to new 'learned' postures that are not ideal, muscles begin to work in altered ways. These slow insidious changes to our body become the new way we hold ourselves- the new habits. Some muscles will begin to work harder or have increased tone and others will become weaker.
You could say that muscles become 'imbalanced'.
What is muscle tone?
Muscles have a normal state of tension, even at rest. The muscles continuously 'buzz away' with a message from the nerves that innervate them. So in reality, the resting state of a muscle still has low activation going on. This tone of muscles is necessary to protect them from sudden injury form stretching, or to help maintain normal posture and support around the joints of the body.
Putting it all together.
The tone of each muscle around each and every joint of the body needs to be balanced for the alignment and movement of the joint to be optimal. In poor posture, in injury, in compensated or adapted movements, this becomes out of whack. Some muscles become spasmed or tight (you could say in 'high tone' or 'over-active'), while other muscles nearby become weak or not activated (you could say in 'low tone' or 'under-active').
This 'imbalance' and can pull a joint into poorer alignment and encourage further weaknesses, less support for the joint, altered movement, stresses, loads and pain.
You could imagine that the tightrope walker with the beautifully balanced pole is your painfree joint with the balance of muscles about all right. He remains centred, balanced, performing at his best.
In the same way, you could imagine the tightrope walker without the balanced pole, with too much pole length pulling him one way and not enough length from the other side to pull him back. This is the painful joint or posture with an imbalanced muscle system supporting it, all overloaded, stressed and painful.
You need your physio
This is where your physio can help you out. They can teach you about restoring the correct muscular balance and muscle tone around your painful joints and postures. You will need to learn to turn off those over active muscles and learn to find and strengthen your underactive ones. You can then achieve that perfect postural support, joint alignment and movement perfection.
You will be then on your way to walking that tightrope!