Are my muscles balanced?

Young Woman Holding Her Neck in PainAccording to preliminary research by the Diagnosis Foundation, virtually everybody has at least one set of muscles with imbalanced strength. What does this mean and what are the implications?

What is balanced muscle strength? All of the muscles around any given joint need the correct amount of strength pulling in each direction. For example, the muscles that move your thigh backward, need similar strength compared to the ones that move your thigh forward, to the outside, to the inside, rotating the thigh inward and outward.

What are the implications of imbalanced muscle strength? If one muscle around a joint is stronger or weaker than the rest, the bones of that joint will not remain centered properly when you move. This causes a shift in the biomechanics of your joint which initially results in a loss of athletic performance (decreased power, speed & endurance).

If allowed to progress, the joint will tug to one side. This can cause stretching of the soft tissues and damage. At this stage, you might notice clicking in a joint, or that certain activities result in pain. As the tissues that hold you joint together become stretched your joint becomes ‘sloppy’ or loose. This leaves you more susceptible to injuries. If left uncorrected, the amount of damage in the affected joint accumulates, eventually resulting in joint disease or osteoarthritis.

How do I know if I have balanced muscle strength in my joints? There are a wide range of tests that can be done to evaluate muscle strength. The key to understanding this issue is to do testing that isolates individual muscles.

To accomplish this, subjects are placed in very specific starting positions and asked to do a very specific motion that puts most of the work load on one group of muscle fibers, and minimizes the contributions from others. For general strength purposes, do a test that measures the maximum force you can generate in 1 repetition.

State of the art testing where documentation is required for insurance or legal cases typically involves sophisticated equipment (i.e. Cybex, Biodex). While muscle strength testing with this type of equipment can be extremely accurate, it tends to be limited in the number of different muscles that can be measured and takes a relatively large amount of time and money to perform.

Manual muscle testing, with or without measurement or recording devices, offers a much broader range of muscles that can be measured and can be done in a much quicker time frame and lower cost. Accuracy will not be as good with manual testing, but it is still considered to be of good quality with “good internal and external validity” (1). In a balanced muscle strength screening, a skilled examiner can test ten to twenty muscles on both limbs in less than 10 minutes.

Where can I get this done? Professional sport teams and olympic athletes get tested for individual muscle strength on a regular basis. The typical doctor’s office however, does not do this type of testing. You will have to search for a health care provider who does this type of work. Checking sports doctors, physical therapists, chiropractors and physiatrists will increase you chances of finding a provider who does this type of work.

You can also learn how to do muscle strength testing yourself. The Diagnosis Foundation has a course that will teach you how to do strength testing on a dozen of the key muscles in the legs. It takes about 4-6 weeks at 5-10 hours a week to learn and study the related anatomy and procedures online. It is available as a self study course or with an instructor and can be taken online or by mail. If you live in the New York area, you can even attend a seminar or get certified in the procedures. Coming soon: education and certification courses for the arms.

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