Tensegrity and Muscle Imbalances
For a long time, even in my own specialty, doctors have approached musculoskeletal disorders with an emphasis on the skeletal part. Today, we are learning that the most important component of these disorders is likely the muscle part.
As I mentioned when discussing how I approach arthritis, it is important to look at the body’s tensegrity. Oversimplified, tensegrity is a structural principle where tension is used to suspend solid structures (see the model of the spine). Instead of thinking of our bones as stacked on each other, they actually are suspended by our soft tissue (muscles, ligaments, fascia, etc.). Our bones float within this muscular system.
This shift in thinking demonstrates just how important our muscles are to our joint health. Imbalances in these muscles can lead to malalignment during movements that results in wear-and-tear on your joints. Here is an example of how muscle imbalances can lead to hip pain:
Your hip joint is defined as the point where the top of your thigh bone (the femur) inserts into your pelvis (hip socket). When your thigh is pulled backward (called hip extension) by your glutes, the femur remains stable within your hip joint. This is because the gluteus maximus muscle (your large buttock muscle) attaches from your pelvis straight into your femur. But in a lot of people, the glutes become weaker than the hamstrings, and it is the hamstrings that take over in hip extension. Your hamstrings go from your pelvis and attach to your shin bone, bypassing your thigh bone altogether. This different angle of pull causes the top of the thigh bone to shift forward every time you extend your hip. The result is stress on the hip capsule and joint, which leads to hip pain. Alternatively, because hip extension is a powerful movement in most sports, this imbalance can lead to frequent hamstring strains during exercise and athletic activities.
In the above example, my job would be to determine that your hamstrings have taken over for your glutes in hip extension. After that, I would use osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT) to ensure proper alignment of the components of your hip joint. Finally, we would work together to construct an at-home routine to reactivate your glutes, decrease the stiffness of your hamstrings, and ultimately relieve the pain in your hip joint.
Of course, the example in this article is just one of very, very many. Make an appointment with a musculoskeletal specialist who can evaluate you for muscle imbalances and set you on the path to recovery, decrease pain, and increase performance.