How Muscle Imbalances Can Lead to Pain and Injury

February 13, 2024 1:03 pm

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Muscular imbalance is an imbalance between two muscles or muscle groups that have opposite functions. Usually, it involves a combination of shortening, tension, and weakness. For example, your right arm may be stronger than your left, or your biceps are stronger than your triceps. It’s typically not much of a problem; we’re rather asymmetrical beings in general, but muscle imbalances in some areas can play a role in creating problems within the body leading to injuries and pain.

One problem that can occur is that your weaker muscles tire out before the stronger muscles. If those weaker muscles tire out during a workout or strenuous activity, the stronger muscles will work even harder to pick up the slack. This can put undue stress on them, causing overuse and resulting in injuries and pain.

When a muscle imbalance pulls one of your joints out of position, this puts a strain on that joint. When that strain stresses the nerves around the joint, you feel pain. If your body readjusts itself to ease the pain, other sets of muscles can become imbalanced – and the cycle can continue.

For example, the quads and hamstrings are a common source of imbalance in people who sit all day long. The quads lie on the front of the thigh and the hamstrings on the back. When the quads become much stronger than the hamstrings, the most common imbalance of these two, this puts you at a much higher risk of knee injuries, like an ACL tear.

Muscular imbalances can occur due to physical inactivity, repetitive strains exerted on the body on a day-to-day basis, or unilateral exercise. When muscles on one side of a joint or the body are stronger than those on the other side, movement patterns are thrown out of whack. It can put additional stress on different parts of the body during activity, potentially causing injury.

When we speak of balance, it’s not necessarily that each muscle or muscle group needs to be able to handle the exact same load weight, but rather handle them at the proper ratio. Some muscles are meant to be stronger than others, and that’s what truly creates the intricate balance of the body.

Warning signs of a muscle imbalance include: Training in only one sport or targeting only one muscle group, poor posture, noticeable difference in strength, flexibility or balance on one side of the body versus the other side, or pain that is not connected to a specific injury.

Muscle imbalances don’t happen overnight, so it may take several months to see any improvement. You should visit your healthcare provider or physical therapist if you have an injury. They can test for muscle imbalances and help pinpoint the best exercises to correct them.

A therapeutic exercise program should include moves that stretch tight muscles and strengthen weaker muscles. For example, if you sit all day, you may develop tight hip flexors and weakened gluteal muscles. This muscle imbalance puts your pelvis in an anterior pelvic tilt which can lead to low back pain. Your exercise program might include hip flexor stretches, foam rolling exercises, and moves to strengthen your glutes, hamstrings, and core.

If one side is stronger, your therapist may also recommend unilateral exercises. These single-limb exercises allow you to work one side of your body at a time to regain strength. Examples include single-leg step-ups, single-leg deadlifts, and single-arm bicep curls.

While muscle imbalances are common, and depending on your daily activities, may be unavoidable, taking the time to bring your awareness to how your body is feeling and operating can clearly show you where you might need to alter your movements to bring balance back.

The deeper pressure of Deep Tissue Massage is beneficial in releasing chronic muscle tension by focusing on the deepest layers of muscle tissue, tendons and fascia (the protective layer surrounding muscles, bones and joints). Massage techniques that require the patient to participate in flexing and releasing certain muscles during the massage to accelerate the results and to re-educate the body so that muscles and the structure come back into balance. When the body is in balance, it is pain free, allowing greater range of motion and strength.

Body & Soul Massage in Salem Ma offers Therapeutic Massage for Pain Relief. To learn more about our Pain Relief packages visit or call 978-825-0040.
HAS/FSA accepted.