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WHY YOU SHOULD CARE ABOUT MUSCLE IMBALANCE AND HOW YOU CAN FIX IT

Mersad Alimoradi 21 Jan 2021
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE ABOUT MUSCLE IMBALANCE AND HOW YOU CAN FIX IT

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If you’ve been working out or lifting weights, you’ve probably noticed at one point that one side of your body is weaker than the other. You can lift weights and do chores comfortably with your right arm, but have more trouble doing so with your left (or vise-versa)

If you’ve just noticed this, no need to worry. Most of us have a naturally occurring muscle imbalance and have a stronger side and a weaker side. For many, though, other factors may make further the difference, such as bodily injuries and daily life routines.

Understanding muscle imbalance and why one limb might be stronger than the other is important. Muscle imbalance can be a cause of injury and disability if not addressed, but luckily, there are several ways to fix it.

Why does muscle imbalance matter?

Having only a slight muscle imbalance should not cause you to be worried. However, if the difference is starting to become more noticeable, you should be careful. Many people report discovering their muscle imbalance at the gym when lifting weights. You might have noticed that you can lift heavier weights for more repetitions using your right arm, as compared to your left for example. Physiotherapists believe that having an imbalance in one muscle group might indicate that you have an imbalance in others as well. This includes imbalances in your arm muscles (biceps and triceps), chest muscles (pecs), back muscles, and legs (quads).

If you have a major muscle imbalance, the stronger muscle group might work harder to compensate for the weakness, which might lead to injury and pain on either side. Muscle imbalance prevents your muscles from working properly; they will contract disproportionately and start causing you problems. Identifying muscle imbalance can help you take measures to improve your weaker side.

Why does muscle imbalance happen?

Chances are that you’ve always known that one side of your body is stronger than the other. You always use the same arm to lift heavy objects, and the same leg to start climbing a flight of stairs. You consistently and unconsciously choose the stronger limb to get things done, because your brain knows that it would be more efficient than your weaker side. There are several reasons why one side of our body is usually stronger than the other. These can be natural (determined by your genes) or acquired due to habits or life events that contribute to muscle imbalance. Here are some reasons why one side of your body is stronger than the other:

  • Your genetics: 90% of the people reading this are right handed- That’s RIGHT, only 10% of the population are left-handed. Most of us have one dominant foot and arm, and in the majority of cases, it’s the right side. Handedness and footedness refer to which side of our body is dominant. You can move your dominant limb more easily and with higher precision to accomplish fine tasks. This means that you’ll be more likely to use your dominant arm and leg, which will make them stronger and bigger than the other side. This is determined by our genes which determine our brain’s anatomy.
  • Injury: If you’ve had an accident and had to immobilize one leg or one hand, you might develop muscle wasting on the injured side. Muscle wasting is when your muscles become atrophied (smaller and weaker) due to underuse. This happens when you fracture a limb and have to wear a cast for a few weeks. During this period, the muscles on your opposite side will become larger and stronger (hypertrophy), which causes muscle imbalance.
  • Your job: People who have manual jobs tend to have more muscle imbalance between sides. For example, if you’re a construction worker, you probably use your dominant hand to complete intense manual tasks all day. This usually means that one arm will be much stronger and bigger than the other.
  • Your sleep position: If you always tend to sleep on the same side, there’s a good chance that side will atrophy and become weaker.
  • Lifestyle habits: Other life habits like always holding the grocery bags using the same hand, or always crossing your legs in the same position will make one side of your body stronger than the other

How to fix muscle imbalance?

There are several ways how you can fix muscle imbalance:

  • Targeted exercise: You can start by dedicating your workouts to focus on your weaker side rather than on the stronger sides. This means that you should always weights that feel appropriate and comfortable for your weaker side. Once you figure out your weaker side’s limit, you can apply it for the opposite side’s exercise. Avoid working one side more than the other and give yourself enough time to recover between reps to properly regain your strength.
  • Physical therapy: Therapy by a certified physiotherapist might be needed if you have a severe imbalance, like what happens after injury Your therapist will apply effective exercises and massage techniques to help even out the difference between sides and restore your mobility.
  • Ultrasound therapy: Ultrasound treatment uses sound waves to promote healing and it’s offered by some medical and physiotherapy centers as a treatment for muscle imbalance.

Muscle imbalance is sometimes natural and not worrisome, however, if it’s recently becoming more noticeable, you should definitely take action. Severe imbalance between different muscle groups and between your right and left side limbs might put you at risk of injury or pain. Thankfully, simple exercise and more advanced therapy are available to fix the problem.

To search for the best physiotherapists and orthopedic doctors worldwide, please use the Mya Care search engine.

About the Author:
Mersad Alimoradi is a medical doctor specializing in general surgery, with a big interest in academia. He is passionate about spreading medical knowledge and making it accessible to everyone. He has received his medical degree from the Lebanese University, in Beirut, and currently works as a physician and researcher in the country's university hospitals.

Sources:

  • https://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/patient-caregiver-education/fact-sheets/multiple-system-atrophy
  • https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/types-of-muscular-dystrophy-and-neuromuscular-diseases
  • https://www.fusfoundation.org/diseases-and-conditions/pain-relief/muscle-atrophy
  • https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-asymmetric-brain/202002/5-scientific-facts-about-left-footedness
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