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What is Isometric Muscle Balancing?

Bad posture can cause shortened, tight muscles.
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  • Written By: Zari Ballard
  • Edited By: Lucy Oppenheimer
  • Last Modified Date: 30 August 2014
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Isometric muscle balancing is a rehabilitative exercise treatment used to help recondition and retrain certain muscles in the body that have become chronically “semi-contracted” and imbalanced. Isometric, or muscle release, therapy is prescribed by medical professionals to be practiced at home, and is initially administered in clinical settings. Studies now show that muscle imbalance, also known as somatic dysfunction, is the root cause of a high percentage of reported back pain. This would explain why 95% of all back pain has no diagnosable cause since muscle imbalances typically do not appear noticeable in x-rays.

Muscle imbalance is better understood when one imagines how the musculoskeletal system actually works. In the body, the skeletal muscles work together by moving in opposite pairs. Due to muscle fatigue, bad posture, trauma, heavy lifting, exercise, sports, and even emotional stress, a muscle or group of muscles can gradually become shortened and tight, losing the ability to “release” after contracting. The body eventually recognizes this constant “semi-contracted” state as a series of muscle spasms.

At the same time, the opposite or corresponding paired muscles become “over-stretched” and weak, losing the ability to contract when needed. These paired muscles are unable to work together in perfect symmetrical motion eventually causes the imbalance. As a result of muscle imbalances, joints in the body will begin to move in altered ways and eventually breakdown. Muscle spasms caused from “semi-contracted” muscles will constrict blood flow and pinch nerve endings causing even the simplest of movements to become painful.

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To restore proper balance to a person’s musculoskeletal system, muscle release therapists will prescribe a series of isometric muscle balancing techniques. With practice, isometric muscle balancing techniques can retrain the “memory” in the contracted muscle to release and stretch. A person taught to practice isometric muscle balancing exercises learns to gently tighten the muscle in question without moving the joint. As the contraction is released, the muscle cells reset and allow the muscle to lengthen. Over time, the muscle will return to its normal state and the corresponding paired muscle will follow suit.

All of the exercise techniques used to correct muscle imbalance utilize some form of gentle isometric contraction. Post Isometric Relaxation Technique (PIR), along with being the basis for many other forms of muscle therapy, is considered to be one of the simplest yet most effective isometric muscle balancing techniques. Through consistent use, PIR technique rapidly releases spasms and reduces chronic pain. PIR also helps to coax muscles back to proper “at-rest” positions, increase a muscle’s range of motion, and restore a muscle’s biomechanical function.

Muscle Energy Therapy (MET) is an isometric muscle balancing technique that employs muscle reflexes that help improve overall mobility in the joints. Usually practiced in a clinical setting, MET uses muscle contractions, or controlled isometric “contraction-release” techniques, followed by relaxation and passive stretching. “Passive stretching” is a form of stretching administered by a trained therapist that increases range of motion in the related joints.

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