When these three things are working together properly, each joint (including the spine) rotates and moves optimally.
When they aren’t working together, the joints move in sub-optimal ways, and the body uses what’s called compensations.
These are the 2 main compensatory mechanisms we use:
It will tighten up the strongest muscle around the joint as a protective mechanism
It will alter the way you move in an attempt to prevent injuries.
These 2 things, when left unaddressed, can create dozens of imbalances.
Imbalances that start at one joint (like the knee) and then slowly over time cascade throughout the body, eventually giving you trouble in the hip, the lower back, then the neck.
And what it feels like, when some muscles are constantly tight and irritated, and some aren’t working is:
- Tension, turning into trigger points
- Tightness that keeps coming back
People who experiencing chronic back pain (over a long period) commonly have some serious imbalances going on. If they exercise, then all of their big strong, outer muscles are working well. Things like the erector spinae muscles in the back and the rectus abdominis in the torso (responsible for crunches) kick in and take over for the work that the inner unit muscles need to do to stabilise the spine – and therefore prevent pain.
When we train the same muscles over and over again, leaving out others, we develop asymmetries at the joint.
So what can we do about it?
1 – Start with the inner unit in the core (show image)
2 – Add training that forces your body to use the stability muscles
If you spend a lot of time on gym machines like the leg press, change it up and try a free standing squat instead. Our inner unit muscles don’t need to do anything while we are fully supported lying back on a machine. When we get up and work against gravity,
3 – Understand that connective tissue takes time to strengthen – more than muscles do, and pace your program
Re-training the body can take time. It can take hundreds of repetitions to engage a muscle that hasn’t been working for a long time and have it automate – i.e – it kicks in by itself in daily life.
This is especially true of the glute muscles which are essential in keeping the spine stable, and the multifidus muscles, which keep each vertebrae in it’s optimal position.
Kristy Ahale is a Clinical Exercise Therapist.
She has been in the field of orthpaedic rehabilitation for over 10 years, and is the founder of The Postpartum Method Core and Pelvic Floor Program.