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Muscle Imbalances: The Key to Unlocking Pain

Everyone experiences pain at some point. The problem of chronic pain in our bodies is complex and far-reaching. Musculoskeletal pain encompasses many different areas, such as the head, neck, back, limbs, joints, bones and even chronic nonspecific widespread tissue pain. Chronic pain is defined as pain lasting longer than six months. That number goes much higher when we add the statistics for acute pain. Chronic and acute pain can range from mild to moderate to excruciating. Despite the wide-ranging conditions and symptoms, all types of musculoskeletal pain share similar underlying mechanisms, manifestations, and potential treatments. In the final analysis, most pain is foundational, resulting from imbalances in a musculoskeletal system that is out of alignment. A great deal of research presents evidence that the root cause of many neuromuscular pain patterns is due to biomechanical misalignments caused by muscle imbalances. We are in pain because we are misaligned, or “crooked.” Therapists often refer to this as the muscles being “locked long” or “locked short.” Do you know what the following conditions have in common: sciatica, plantar fasciitis, carpal tunnel, tennis elbow, low back pain, neck pain, and most headaches? At first, they don’t seem to have much in common. They occur in different parts of the body and involve different musculoskeletal structures. However, if you step back and look at the body as a whole, you will notice the common element.

This common element is called muscle imbalance. This simply means that some muscles are too short and some muscles are too long. Both muscles will feel tight. The short muscle is contracted and tight, and the long muscle is like an overstretched rubber band—too long and very tight. Since every muscle is attached to a bone, these muscle imbalances pull the bones out of alignment. That’s what makes you crooked. Optimal functioning of the musculoskeletal system requires that muscles be in balance in regard to strength and length. If they do not possess this balance, then the muscles become painful and the joint where these imbalances are occurring will become compromised. This often manifests as pain in that joint and/or limited range of motion. Misalignment of the skeletal structure caused by muscle imbalance can cause compressions of the nerves, discs, and other structures in the body. It can also cause the fascia to be twisted. Fascia is a band of fibrous connective tissue enveloping, separating, or binding together muscles, organs, and other soft structures of the body. These twists, compressions, and tight muscles ultimately lead to less oxygen in the tissues at those areas. The medical term for this condition is ischemia, which means an inadequate supply of blood is reaching the tissues. As a result, the tissue is not getting enough oxygen. That lack of oxygen is what causes a good deal of the pain. One of the most common causes of muscle imbalances is simply poor posture and/or improper ergonomics. Slumping at your desk or in your car pushes your head forward of your body, putting a lot of strain on your neck and shoulders, which now have to hold up your head without the support of the spinal column. The average head weighs around 5 kilos. That is very heavy. If you tried to hold that much weight with your arms, you probably would not last more than five minutes. Yet we ask our neck and shoulder muscles to hold that weight all day long. These muscles are not designed to hold up your head. They are meant to move your head in different directions, not hold them in the same position for long periods of time. By correcting your computer and driving positions, you will bring your head over your shoulders and improve your posture. Your bones (the spinal column) will be holding up your head, which will help take the strain off the muscles. The Takeaway Muscle imbalances pull the frame of the body (the bones) into misalignment, causing pain. The condition of being out of alignment or crooked results in many neuromuscular pain patterns. An estimated 80 percent of all the pain you will experience in your life is due to these misaligned mechanical problems. Muscles that are either too long or too short pull your bones crooked, causing compression and reducing oxygen to the tissues. The key to understanding and eliminating pain is to be able to recognise the cause. When you go to a doctor, you could be diagnosed with any one of hundreds of conditions. In our Western model of medicine, standard treatment for conditions like sciatica, plantar fasciitis, carpal tunnel, tennis elbow, low back pain, neck pain, and most headaches involves treating the symptoms, typically with a painkiller, an anti-inflammatory drug, then surgery. Seldom does treatment address the cause. The cause is muscle imbalance or misalignment, and the correct treatment is to get you “uncrooked.” (Muscular Therapy and Remedial Massage)

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