AN ARTICLE FROM COMPETITOR.COM "The Effect of Asymmetry On Running performance and Injury Prevention" discusses something many of us may notice when exercising, but don’t spend much time considering: asymmetry. It is defined as “ lack of symmetry…relative differences in muscle strength, motion, flexibility, balance, and mechanics between sides of the body,” in this piece by Ian McMahon. How seriously we should approach asymmetry is discussed. There’s a single-leg balance asymmetry test at the end of the article that highlights the importance of balance for runners, as did the recent EarnedRuns post (“Fix A Single Broken Window: Balance II").
The article admits there is no easy way to determine whether or not asymmetry presents a problem, but that the results of a self-test of single-leg balance can indicate that work might be warranted to prevent injury.
From my personal rehabilitation work with physical therapists I can offer some anedoctal information that may be helpful. I have discovered that, as the amount of running is increased to reach a goal race or personal best finish time, a SIGNIFICANT asymmetry will ultimately make its presence known and result in injury. An injury that prevents continued training will have been preceded by weeks or months of warning signs like discomfort and progressive pain while exercising. This is my own experience, and it’s similar to what friends and family have admitted. I (we) initially pushed through painful training sessions until the pain became constant. Sidelined by INJURY, training wasn’t possible. By this time merely walking or moving normally through activities of daily life also became difficult. Not everyone will seek professional help to treat an injury, or take steps to enable diagnosis and correct the underlying asymmetry. It may be easier to accept the physical limitation because once the acute pain has subsided with “rest”, “ice”, “compression”, “elevation” and medication, the limitation seems small. Over the years multiple small limitations accumulate, and may prevent participation in recreational activities we previously very much enjoyed!
There are many components to balance, including hip and core strength and knee stability. The balance test suggested in this article can identify whether an asymmetry exists, but not the specific problem. If the length of time you stand on each leg without wobbling is very different, or you cannot stand on either leg without immediately wobbling, seriously consider working harder on strength, balance, and flexibility routines (paying more attention to the “weak” side). You may benefit from backing off your running goals; better to decrease running mileage and change the date of a goal race to later in the year than go forward, hoping a balance asymmetry issue will resolve itself. I was GUILTY of ignoring signs of asymmetry and paid the price of a half year off from all running EACH TIME I was side-lined.
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EARNED RUNS is edited and authored by me, runner and founder. I began participating in road races before 5Ks were common. I've been a dietitian, practiced and taught clinical pathology, and been involved with research that utilized pathology. I am fascinated with understanding the origins of disease as well as health.
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