The most common muscle imbalances are also the most important contributors to chronic pain and yet the most often overlooked. We simply ignore the obvious and choose to keep searching for a diagnosis that may be easier to treat.
While the body has an incredible ability to adapt to the forces placed upon it, if the forces are repetitive the response may actually be maladaptive. For instance, if you are sitting hunched over a desk all day then it’s natural to develop tight, shortened pecs and weak back muscles. The next thing you know, you’re experiencing daily shoulder pain and don’t know why.
Other reasons you may develop muscle imbalances
- Unbalanced lifting routine
- Endurance training only (ie: running, cycling, swimming) without a lifting routine
- Repetitive activities at work or home
- Neurological disorders
Being able to identify muscle imbalances as a part of pain can empower you to take action and start feeling better immediately. Why? Because the intervention is usually easy. The most common muscle imbalances occur in the shoulder and pelvic girdles, where our joints rely on counteracting muscles to keep them stable and functioning properly.
It’s easy then to see how if one group of muscles is working harder or are generally tighter than the opposing muscles, the joint will no longer be in alignment. The pelvis is a good place to start given that low back pain is one of the most common reasons for Americans to claim disability with an exorbitant cost to society.
Let’s dive a little deeper into muscle imbalances that lead to chronic low back and hip pain. When you stand straight, your shoulders, hips and pelvis should all be in alignment. However, it’s very common to stand with the pelvis rotated forward, known as anterior pelvic tilt.
Anterior pelvic tilt is caused by tight or shortened hip flexor muscles, weak gluteal muscles and/or weak abdominal muscles. A combination of these muscle imbalances results in the top of the pelvis being rotated towards the floor, exaggerating the curve in the lumbar spine and putting more stress on the low back and hip muscles.
Causes of anterior pelvic tilt
- Prolonged sitting, causing tight hip flexors
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Poor posture
- Weak abdominal muscles
- Weak gluteal muscles
How do you treat anterior pelvic tilt?
The good news is that muscle imbalances are reversible with stretching of tight and strengthening of weak muscles. Generally improving flexibility and mobility through yoga and Pilates or doing specific stretches to target tight muscles and strength exercises to improve weak muscles will provide significant benefit.
This will be an ongoing process and may take time, so results are best if you make this a part of your daily routine.
WHAT TO DO NEXT?
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