Have you ever had a client complain of soreness on only one side of her body? Or had someone blame his workout for an injury? Exercise and sport are both potential culprits, but sometimes there’s more to it.
We all have unique movement patterns, and when certain muscles are overused and others are underused, compensation patterns result. Muscles remember frequently used motor patterns and do them automatically. The overused muscles can become tight, inflamed and irritated, while underused muscles grow weak.
You can’t always know the source of the problem, but you can help your clients work to reduce the amount of uneven stress being placed on their bodies each day. While it’s unrealistic to expect people to be perfectly balanced all the time, you can help your clients adopt better movement patterns and identify common habits, such as those listed below, which can result in imbalances.
1. Sleeping on the same side or on your stomach.
Avoid sleeping on the same side or on your stomach with your head turned the same way every night. Instead, try sleeping on your back for part of the night. When laying on your side or stomach, switch sides. It might feel uncomfortable at first, but you can train your body over time.
2. Always leading with your dominant side when climbing stairs.
Pay attention to your stair climbing and descending habits. It’s likely that you have a dominant side. Work on becoming aware of your stepping habits and try to alternate your lead leg each time.
3. Crossing your legs with the same leg on top.
If you cross your legs while sitting, take notice of which leg is crossed over top. Work on crossing the other leg over the top, especially if you experience any pain or discomfort while crossing your legs.
4. Carrying bags on the same shoulder.
Do you carry everything (e.g., purses, children, groceries) on the same side of your body? After you identify which shoulder you use more for carrying, work on switching sides. Consider lightening up the load and taking more trips back and forth when carrying groceries or other items from the car.
5. Using the same hand when holding items.
When holding items like a toothbrush, hair dryer or phone, notice which hand you usually use. Try switching hands, which will challenge your brain as well as your body, and help create new motor patterns.
6. Putting all of your weight on one leg while standing.
If you catch yourself leaning on a counter or putting all your weight on one leg while standing, you could be creating imbalances. Instead, focus on standing with your legs hip-width apart and try closing your eyes. Slowly shift your weight from left and right. If one side feels more stable than the other, work on improving your balance on the less-dominant side.
7. Locking your knees.
Many people lock out their knees when standing still for any length of time. Soft knees keep the neighboring joints in a more neutral position and help keep blood flowing throughout the lower extremities.
8. Holding your phone or tablet at waist level.
Holding your phone or tablet at waist level means you have to constantly look down, which can cause neck strain. Instead, try to hold your devices closer to eye level and relax your shoulders. Consider checking email and watching videos at a desk with a larger computer.
9. Training one side more than the other when participating in sports or activities.
If you’re an avid bowling or tennis enthusiast, chances are one side of your body is more developed than the other. Of course, this can be hard to reverse. Take a few swings with the other side during your warm-up or cool-down. You can also work to train the other side of the body in the gym. If possible, limit time spent on one-sided sports, especially if you’re experiencing pain or discomfort.
10. Driving for extended periods of time.
Yes, even driving for extended periods can create imbalances. To help account for the imbalance caused by mostly using your right foot, prop the left foot up on the rubber resting pad found in most cars. When the feet are uneven, every joint above them is also uneven. Keeping the pelvis aligned minimizes the amount of shift happening when using one foot is doing all the work.