How Muscle Imbalances Can Cause Chronic Injuries
Persistent injuries and pain are fairly easy and straightforward to recognize, as they don’t adhere to the healing timelines that I discussed in last week’s article. Recovery from these injuries usually cycles through periods where the pain and injury appear to be going away, but then returns in full force. It can be a bit like a roller-coaster with plenty of ups and downs, but the track never changes. The reason these injuries don’t go away is the result of what I call the “Protection Mode”.
The “Protection Mode” is a mechanism that the human body has adapted and it follows every injury we sustain. It is a series of steps that your body subconsciously takes to protect you after an injury occurs. This process occurs in the coordination center of your brain. Sound sort of complicated? Well, it’s not really, the example below explains it well.
For instance, let’s say you bend over really quickly and feel a ‘pop’ in your back. Immediately your body recognizes that something is injured. It might be that you’ve tweaked a joint in your lower back. Your body wants to protect this joint and so does the logical thing by tightening up the muscles that surround this joint, resulting in a handful of overworking muscles. Believe it or not, this mechanism is often more painful than the original injury! This explains why your pain may not appear until the day AFTER your injury.
Although the “Protection Mode” is effective and necessary while an injury heals, there are some major problems with it. First, not only do you now have handful of “overworking” muscles that are protecting that injured joint, but as your body always needs to be balanced out, you will also have a handful of “underworking” muscles somewhere nearby to offset the overworking ones. The common terms that we use to describe this scenario are muscle compensations or muscle imbalances.
Second, when the injury has healed, the “Protection Mode” should switch off resulting in these imbalances resolving, but often, this does not fully occur. When this doesn’t happen the consequences can be costly. This is where constant re-injuries or “overuse” injuries occur. These really aren’t new injuries as they stem from the muscle imbalances or compensations from a previous injury. They happen as muscles haven’t been working properly since the first injury and so tissues have become more “stressed” over time.
These are extremely easy to resolve if caught early, but these types of injuries quickly result in a domino effect causing a compensation, on a compensation, on a compensation and so on. Very quickly your body loses its ability to adapt and things start to fall apart. When the “Protection Mode” runs rampant like this, it quickly results in extreme hypersensitivity of the tissues involved. If this happens, even the lightest touch can evoke pain. This whole process is the most common cause of chronic pain.
At South Cowichan Physiotherapy, we understand the importance of assessing for and addressing compensations and muscle imbalances. This is something that we do not only with chronic and persistent injuries, but with any injury we assess. If you have an old injury that you have been putting off getting addressed, stop waiting and book an appointment with us today!
Stay tuned for next week’s article where I will discuss how to treat muscle imbalances through stretching, rolling out muscles, and strengthening exercises.
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