Muscle Imbalances:The Tug of War Inside Your Body
Human beings are born with well-balanced bodies, but
rarely do they stay that way. Throughout our lives we learn to
use our muscles to master various activities, but because we
tend to favor one side, or do some activities over and over
again, we work some muscles too much and others too little.
Take our modern-day sedentary lifestyles, for example.
Most of us sit far more than we stand or engage in activity.
We sit at the computer, in a plane, in meetings, while
watching TV, and while eating, driving, and visiting. If we
were to log the hours we spend sitting, as opposed to other
activities, we’d probably find that sitting takes up the majority
of our time. We’re a society of “too much” sitting—especially
compared to 50 or 100 years ago.
Sitting, however, isn’t the only way we use our muscles too
little or too much. Consider the course of your own typical
day. Most likely you use one hand more than the other to
brush your teeth, style your hair, write, and eat. That hand
and arm also are probably more prominent in activities such
as cleaning, cooking, and doing laundry. When you drive,
you use the right leg for both pedals, while your left does
nothing, unless you’re operating a manual transmission.
Since you do these activities most every day, these muscles
are used over and over again, while others—like your left leg
when driving—are hardly ever worked. You can imagine how
the stronger muscles on one side of your body—with little
counterbalancing resistance from the weaker ones on the
other side—can pull your spine, hips, and other joints slightly
out of alignment.
The same thing can happen with your forward and
backward movements. Many people tend to lean forward
more than backward for activities such as driving, reading,
mowing the lawn, woodwork, crafts, playing games, and, of
course, working at the computer. You lift heavy items by
leaning forward, not backward. For sports such as skiing,
running, cycling, soccer, and baseball, you’re almost always
If you’re not performing backward-type stretches and
exercises to counteract these “bending forward” habits, the
muscles in the front of your body will become stronger and
shorter, while the muscles in the back may weaken and stretch
out. Again, when the front of your body is much stronger
than the back, you can imagine how such unbalanced forces
can subtly distort the natural curve of your spine.
There are many more examples of how we use our muscles
unevenly. You may prop a telephone on one ear while doing
other tasks, using just one side of your neck. Carrying a heavy
purse, laptop bag, or backpack on one shoulder may cause
you to lean to one side to support the weight while sticking
your hip out on the other side to counterbalance it.
A similar thing happens if you have young children or
grandchildren and carry them on one hip. You jut out that
hip to support the extra weight—without copying the action
on the opposite side.
Another example: If you have a wallet or cell phone in
your back pocket all the time, it tends to tilt your hip and the
rest of your body to one side whenever you’re sitting.
The result of all this uneven body use is that certain parts
of the body grow strong while other parts weaken, creating a
literal tug of war—where both sides lose.