Defining the Problem-
While almost everyone acknowledges and understands the benefits of proper exercise and diet. Few understand the importance of good posture and muscle balance which is defined as the relative equality of muscle length or strength between opposing muscles surrounding a joint; This balance is necessary for normal movement and function. Muscle imbalance often begins after injury or with functional pathology leading to pain and inflammation. Muscle imbalance in today's society is compounded by stress, fatigue and insufficiency movement through regular physical activity as well as a lack of variety of movement. Lack of variety contributes greatly to imbalance and repetitive movement disorders.
In the United States alone, musculoskeletal conditions account for approximately $ 254 billion a year in associated healthcare costs, lost productivity and medical research (United States Bone and Joint Decade 2002). This means that human dysfunction, misalignment and associated pain cost the US more than $ 695 million per day. Certainly these conditions weigh heavily on the economy, but-more importantly-their substantial and dramatic effects are causing many people to suffer.
The human body is a wondrous thing, the product of millions of years of evolutionary selection and adaptation to change. Witness any professional athlete performing his or her sport and bear the wonder of its abilities. Precision, power, grace, endurance, strength, and creativity are just a few of the many things that it can do. Now think about this: our ancient ancestor's struggles to survive. They constantly had to move to survival: walking, running, climbing, digging, hunting, gathering, running from predators, or chasing prey and surviving the elements could all be a part of a days work. This was the crucible from which our bodies were molded!
As wondrous, rugged and adaptable as the human body is why today does it seem so fragile and prone to joint related break downs, degenerative disease and pain? Why are joint related surgeries and joint replacement surgeries dramatically on the rise? How has such a rugged structure become so frail and problematic in seemingly just a few generations of time? How have millions of years of natural selection and evolutionary development, that helped shape such a wondrous and adaptable body, one that science and technology even at it's very best can only crudely replicate, have gone so a rye? If you do not believe me just take a good look around you. Watch those around you move and listen to them speak about their bodily aches and pains. In some conversations its all people talk about.
So what's going on here?
Most people in our society are becoming increasingly sedentary due to automation and technology. It took millions of years for humans to stand up and only about the last 50 to spend most of the day hunched over again at a computer, driving or watching television; leading our bodies not only towards obesity, but also to muscular fatigue and imbalance and with it compensation and movement dysfunction, which is something we rarely hear about. Just think about this! As recently as the turn of the last century for example (c. 1900) one person in a household spent a full day just doing laundry! We no longer have to move to survive. As we human beings have become smarter and more efficient at using tools, we move less and our specially adapted bodies are doing much less of what they were designed to do. Those that are active today often repeat the same movement patterns ie, biking, running, swimming, etc., subjecting them to repetitive overuse injuries and muscle imbalances. Compared to our ancestors our bodies are not getting the regular physical activity, and more importantly the diversity of movement stimulus needed to stay balanced and functional.
My experience as a strength coach, posture, movement correction specialist, and observer of human movement have clearly shown me that almost everyone suffers from some sort of musculoskeletal imbalance that affects his or her ability to move optimally. In fact, it was through the observation of my clients and members and their struggles with imbalance, pain, and movement while exercising and my own imbalances that have motivated me to study and research this area exhaustively. Muscle imbalance can be defined as opposing muscle groups being imbalanced in length or strength creating restriction and abnormal joint function. The process of muscle balance and movement is thought to be directed by a sensorimotor program that regulates function throughout the body and is interconnected. Think of this regulation as a sort of orchestrated intra-muscular coordination. During movement balanced muscle contractions about a joint are necessary to aid the connective tissue in providing joint stability and equalize pressure distribution at the joint surface (s). Our sedentary lifestyles, pain, injury and chronic stress can cause communication deficiencies within this sensorimotor system which delays the protective muscular responses of reflexive joint stabilization, affecting alignment and balance that are critical for proper joint function, overall body posture and the long term health of the joint (s). Over time, this imbalance becomes centralized in the Central Nervous System (CNS) as a new motor pattern, thus continuing a cycle of pain and dysfunction.
So what does this mean for you?
Left unchecked these changes get worse with time and lead to increasingly inefficient movement, excess wear and tear to the joint and joint surfaces at best and at worst excess, painful joint surface erosion leading many to have joint replacement surgery. These surgeries are a very poor substitute to replace what we were born with. Ultrasound surgery does nothing to correct the real problem 'the imbalance'. If the undesirable imbalances remain, in time the joint above and or below the replaced joint, could and often do follow suit. The problem is the pain is only a symptom of the problem and not the cause. Therefore joint replacements do not resolve the problem only the symptom. This can easily be avoided if the proper movement and postural assessment, testing and corrective therapies are applied early on.
What can you do about it?
The bad news is that this problem is not correctable with regular exercise and stretching. In addition, the imbalances are rarely taken seriously; until they are fairly advanced because they are difficult to detect by the individual as the changes happen slowly and gradually over time.
The good news is these imbalances are correct but they require time and work to correct. For correction to take place and to minimize permanent soft tissue damage the imbalances need to be identified early and corrected by a trained professional, otherwise they will only be reinforced and exacerbated with continued exercise and training.
Another upside of this issue is that musculoskeletal pain issues are firmly and squarely in the spotlight. Consequently, more and more qualified professionals are entering the corrective-exercise and fitness arena developing new and more effective ways of assessing and correcting imbalance. World-raised physical therapists, exercise physiologists, doctors and biomechanics specialists are bringing quality research to the fitness and wellness industry-and as a result, business is booming.
In closing, if you have any further questions or concerns about this topic or just want to improve your quality of movement please come see me. I specialize in designing customized programs to correct postural alignment and musculo-skeletal imbalances to minimizeize injury and maximizeize performance. In my work, I combine posture and movement corrective modalities with an intensity strength and conditioning background to provide my clients with an optimally functioning body that is balanced, strong and pain free.