What Are Muscle Imbalances?

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on October 04, 2022
4 min read

With the increasing focus on health, fitness, and strengthening various muscle groups in the body, there’s been greater awareness about possible muscle imbalances that could affect your movements. This article, for instance, will look at what causes muscle imbalance, its symptoms, diagnosis, and how you can treat it.

The joints in your body are enveloped by muscles that coordinate their movements. These muscle groups counterbalance each other and work together to complete a movement. The muscles on either side of the joints and the bones need to be equally strong and flexible to properly carry out these movements. When the muscles on one side become weaker, it causes muscle imbalances. Muscle imbalances need to be attended to right away, or they can cause serious injuries.

Muscle imbalances also impact joint positions when they are not used and take them along a different path of motion than they were originally meant to do. Another type of muscle imbalance is known as the body muscular imbalance. In this situation, the muscles throughout one side of your body are weaker than those on the other.

If you regularly use the muscles on one side more than the other, they get stronger, shorter, and tighter, with the muscle imbalance meaning that the other side simultaneously gets weaker, longer, and looser.

Muscle imbalance, meaning inconsistency in the strength of the muscles on either side of the joints, is typically caused by one of the following occurrences.

  • Repeatedly moving the same muscles. This is one of the most common causes of muscle imbalances. The contraction of muscles produces the force necessary to carry out movements. Repeatedly doing the same motion may cause the muscle to become semi-contracted. This could modify the position of the joint too. This could happen during a workout, but repeated movements at work can also cause muscle imbalances. If your job requires you to do a specific activity repeatedly, see if you can find ways to modify this movement. For example, if your job involves carrying an object from one location to another, try occasionally shifting which hand bears the brunt of the weight.
  • Lack of movement. A lack of activity can also cause muscle imbalances, especially in the hips. Many people lead a sedentary life where most of the day is spent sitting – at home, in the car, or at work. When you’re sitting, though, the hip muscles contract, which makes the muscles responsible for extending the hips (called the gluteus maximus) redundant.
  • Single plane exercises. Many exercises like push-ups and squats involve moving the muscles in a single plane. Multiple exercises involving single-plane movement, though, could cause muscle imbalances.

Regular workout or exercise helps strengthen most muscle groups. Sometimes, though, the same body parts are consistently sore after a workout or an activity. This is a clear sign of muscle imbalance.

If you notice that one side of your body is unusually stronger, it could be due to a muscle imbalance. Other signs include lopsided balance or flexibility in your body.

Poor posture is both a cause and sign of muscle imbalance. Continuously sitting, maintaining an incorrect posture when you stand or sit, or letting your shoulders droop for a long time could leave a few muscles unworked, making them weak.

Treatment for muscle imbalances depends on the affected muscle group and the severity of the imbalance. Research shows that pilates training and flexibility exercises, though, can effectively restore muscle balance.

A 2015 study that analyzed different exercise techniques to overcome muscle imbalances in elite fencers found specific exercises to be more impactful. The study involved nine male fencers who underwent balance improvement training over the course of 12 weeks.

During this time, the athletes underwent muscle imbalance exercises, which included:

  • Flexibility exercises focused on enhancing their range of motion by rolling the joints and moving the fingers, wrist, knees, ankle, and toes
  • Pilates training three times a week
  • Muscle balance training using weight training equipment

The study found that after the 12-week training, the athletes reported improved balance.

Another popular approach to treat muscle imbalances is known as the Janda method. According to this approach, the musculoskeletal system and central nervous systems are interdependent. The Janda approach collectively refers to these systems as the sensorimotor system and aims to treat it to achieve stability.

Specifically, this method aims to treat muscular injuries by checking the functions and systems in all body parts rather than just the point of imbalance. Through careful and detailed clinical observations, the method has demonstrated that the site of muscle pain is not always the problem.

If you get consistent pain in specific muscles or already know that you have a muscle imbalance, consult your doctor to finalize a treatment program. A well-planned recovery program can improve muscle strength and enhance your range of movement.

Your body uses muscles on either side of the joints and bones to manage movements. When these muscles are not balanced, it hampers your movement and could lead to injuries. At the least, it may lead to noticeably poor posture. While you can still do movements if you have weak muscles, keep in mind that many tendons and ligaments that support muscle activity could also be affected if you are not careful.

Muscle imbalances can’t be identified by regular tests like CT and MRI scans. However, recent advances in technology have made it possible to track an individual’s movements in real-time to understand the muscle groups at work. These computer-aided assessments identify the probability of overusing specific muscle groups, which could prevent injuries. The technology uses infrared imaging to locate muscle groups at work and identify patterns in the person’s posture, balance, and movement.