How does a muscle imbalance lead to injury?

How does a muscle imbalance lead to injury?

Muscle imbalance can make your running or swimming technique less efficient and also lead to overuse injuries. Here we will take a look at what might cause an imbalance and how INCUS left/right analysis can help you get back in balance.
What causes a muscle imbalance?

None of us are completely symmetrical, most muscle imbalance comes from the activities we do, our posture, previous injuries and how we exercise. In a very few cases there may also be skeletal differences, such as a true leg length discrepancy, but most often the cause of muscle imbalance is how we use our bodies on a daily basis.

Why posture matters

Having good posture, or neutral alignment, is a foundation for optimal performance. When your body is in neutral alignment everything is working in sync; blood flows efficiently, nerves are unobstructed and your muscles will not fatigue as easily. In a neutral posture each segment in your body is ‘stacked’ neatly on top of each other and no muscles, ligaments or tendons are carrying excessive load. Poor posture on the other hand can limit your performance and increase your potential for injury.

The Endurance Physio Mike James, explains ‘my first and last role as a therapist is to help athletes with their performance – whether that is helping them with their rehabilitation or reducing their injury potential.  Muscle imbalances per se should not be a worry, I certainly don’t seek them out in every athlete, and I often do not do anything about them. However, If you assess an athlete and conclude that reduced performance and /or injury in their particular situation may be positively affected by working on deficits between muscle groups that work together, or left to right movement patterns, then it may be worth spending time doing something about that to improve their performance.”

If you visit a physiotherapist or a conditioning expert they will first want to look at your body standing statically, before considering how your body moves dynamically. They are looking for neutral alignment where your chin is lifted and your head centred over your shoulders. Your chest will be slightly lifted, hips evenly balanced with a gentle curve in your lower back. Feet slightly wider than hip width apart, knees slightly bent and feet stable on the floor with your body weight equal on both feet.

A quick test you can try yourself is to stand against a wall with shoulders and bottom touching the wall. The rear of your head should lightly touch the wall without you having to actively force it forward or backwards.

Dynamic movement

When running or swimming, the left and right side of your body moves independently as part of the cycle of your swim stroke or running stride so it is seldom perfectly symmetrical. Why it is not symmetrical is down to your body and history of exercise and movement.  A previous injury can cause one side of the body to be weaker but even how you sit at your desk each day, or lift your child onto one hip, can over time alter the balance between muscle groups, strengthening some and weakening others. Your technique can also make a difference.

Using INCUS left/right analysis

Very few sports wearables give you accurate data for each side of your body so you can see the difference between how your left and right side performs. Most collect data from one-side, for example a foot-pod or watch, and assume that the other side performs in the same way.

By tracking the difference in your technique between your left and right side you are able to identify if there is an imbalance which may lead to injury. You are also able to monitor how changing your technique influences other performance metrics. If you already have an injury your INCUS|NOVA allows you to see how well your rehabilitation programme is working. 

The Endurance Physio, says ‘Using INCUS can help guide and improve the accuracy of rehabilitation for an athlete. We can plot the data to see what the trends are – it provides gold standard evidence of what is happening. For example, if you get shoulder pain when you swim over a certain distance we can look at the metrics before you hit the distance where the pain kicks in and what happens to your technique after. We are better able to manage your injury by learning the parameters that you can safely train to. INCUS also allows us to find ways to alter techniques to de-load your shoulder and see how that affects your other swim metrics.’

Read more from The Endurance Physio on managing injuries HERE 

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