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Postural Imbalance... what a pain! The solution is Remedial Massage

 

I have built my practice treating clients who suffer from muscle related pain, restriction or weakness. My goal is to get them back to an active and pain free existence. However many are understandably surprised to hear that their problems originated somewhere far from the current pain site. They are experiencing a reaction (in the form of pain) to compensatory muscular imbalances in their bodies that can have varied and often obscure sources. 

 

How is this possible? Why does this happen? What do I mean by imbalances? How can you fix it? These questions are best answered by example...

 

How do imbalances result in pain?

Imagine you have twisted your ankle resulting in a painful limp. The act of walking is facilitated by powerful muscles that attach below and above your hips. However given the lopsided motion of a limp, muscles on one side of the hip are forced to work harder than their equivalents on the other. Over time these hard working muscles grow slightly shorter (think how you can't straighten your arm after overworking your biceps) and their incessant and uneven tugging on the hip bones slowly pulls your pelvis out of alignment.

 

Two weeks on and your ankle has healed but now that pelvic misalignment is causing one hip to sit slightly higher than the other (imagine standing whilst wearing just one heel). To keep your torso upright, your spine has to curve causing your shoulder blades to sit unevenly on your rib cage. Muscles that span between your shoulders and neck now have to fight to keep your head level. As they begin to chronically overwork and tire, irritable knots form radiating pain into your shoulder and up your neck. Your neck becomes stiff and you begin to suffer from headaches...

 

Blimey! All this from just one tiny little ankle injury??

Now please don't get freaked out if you twist your ankle. But this example illustrates (somewhat dramatically) how something in one part of the body can cause imbalances in another. 

So what is the solution?

Fortunately many imbalances simply correct themselves once the stressor (in this case, the limp) goes away. But often the pain continues and in some cases becomes chronic unless the imbalance is corrected.

 

The solution lies in establishing what muscle groups are currently in imbalance and understanding how they relate to the current pain pattern.

Taking the example above, the first step would be to lengthen and relax the muscles around the hip that have been shortened through overwork. This will allow the pelvis to settle back down into realignment. Then we would need to activate those muscles that have been inhibited through lack of work. This is important because in order for the pelvis to function correctly, all the muscle groups that act below and above it need to be acting in concert with each other. Once you make sure by diligent muscle testing that they are all firing correctly and equally, you can then focus on allowing the spine to straighten by systematically relaxing the small and large muscle groups of the back. Although the spine is now straight, the shoulder blades might not necessarily be behaving themselves so quite a bit of work might be necessary to get them sitting right. Then we need to examine the neck and shoulder muscles to get rid of all those knots that are radiating pain. Finally you want to rise above the detail work and look globally (so to speak) making sure that the whole back, hip and neck complex is interacting smoothly as one integrated unit.

I hope this gives you an idea of how pain patterns can generate and a therapist's eye view of how we treat it.

Summary

The focus of a remedial massage session is to correctly establish the causative pattern of muscular imbalance and use advanced remedial approaches to restore those muscles to a state of equilibrium. This is done by:

  • Lengthening muscles using slow deep tissue techniques such as myofascial release.

  • Activating muscles using muscle energy and brisk sports massage techniques.

  • Switching off those painful irritable knots using trigger point therapy and static compression.

Oh, by the way, there are many causes of imbalances. The above was just one specific example. They can range from:

  • Postural inefficiencies... e.g. slouching, hunching, stooping etc (i.e. by not holding our torsos and heads erect) causes the body to have to fight against the downward force of gravity to maintain its "lazy" position. Over time, this battle will inevitably result in muscle imbalances.

  • Structural inefficiencies... e.g. having one leg longer than the other or a hip imbalance can result in a compensatory pattern of pain going up the back or classic lower leg syndromes such as "Runners Knee" or "ITB Syndrome".

  • Emotional issues... e.g. stress can result in specific headache and neck pain patterns.

  • Habitual patterns... e.g. always carrying a handbag on one shoulder, wearing high heels or favouring standing on one leg than the other can result in radiating pain on one side of the back, neck or legs.

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Thank you for reading.

Henry