The Educated Client: Muscle Imbalances

Posted by on May 5, 2011 | No Comments

The root of the following information is provided by my Therapeutic Shiatsu Mentor, BJ Green (who is nothing short of brilliant)

As in life BALANCE is the name of the game. Most Musculoskeletal Conditions show patterns of muscle imbalance. When a client presents with a tight neck, shoulder, mid-back, low back, etc. there is far more that is actually taking place in the body.

What does that mean, you ask?  Muscle imbalances exist when a muscle is weak and its opposing muscle is overly strong.  The stronger of the two tends to shorten and the weaker of the two elongates.

Typically, most muscle imbalance patterns are caused by bad postural habits and some are even directly related to handedness (left vs right handed).  Muscle imbalances can be caused by a person’s occupation or what they do recreationally like swimmers or bike riders; these clients tend to have forward rolled shoulders (and let’s not forget those who sit at a desk all day).

Imbalances that affect our body alignment are an important factor in most of the painful postural conditions we experience because these imbalances set the stage for undue stress and strain on our joints and soft tissues.

An example of common postural imbalance is the protruding or sagging abdomen (this may conjure an exaggerated image of the slouch like in the photo above but it is often subtle), a generally slouched posture including the infamous rounded shoulders.  This posture creates what we refer to as two “crossed patterns” of weakness and tightness.  In the upper body there’s typically weak anterior neck flexors (the muscles that bring the chin toward the chest), lower trapezius and serratus anterior (this muscle is located at the top of the sides of our rib cage) and in turn creates tightness in the upper trapezius, levator scapula (raises the shoulder blades) and pectorals (the chest muscles).  In the lower body it is common to find weak abs and gluteals along with tight lower erector spinae (parallel to the spine) and iliopsoas (deep abdominals).

Notice that in the previous description that a referral to forward rolled shoulders or “rounded shoulders” means a whole lot more than just the shoulders. The key to understanding the body is that it is NOT segmented. It’s all connected. As an educated client it’s important to understand that if you approach the table presenting this common posture and say to your practitioner “Can you just work on my shoulders and/or upper back and neck?” that you are not quite understanding the full picture.  Let go of your expectations if the practitioner is drawn to other parts of your body such as the lower back, psoas (which is accessed slowly and deeply through the abdomen) and even the hip region (glutes).  The first step towards a therapeutic treatment is to begin to release some of the tightness which will help restore balance to the weak areas by decreasing the pull within the imbalance.  And don’t forget that it’s taken weeks, months and years to develop this posture so one treatment simply and physiologically is not enough to resolve the problem. More on that in the near future!

And don’t forget to listen to your body. It has lots to tell you if you choose to hear it.

Erik Everts