Corrective exercise is a form of physical therapy that focuses on identifying muscle imbalances and addressing movement dysfunctions in order to prevent injury, manage pain, and improve the overall function of the human movement system. Corrective exercise does this by improving the length-tension relationships in the muscles surrounding a joint. Each joint in the body is influenced by multiple muscles that tug and pull on structures in order to produce certain movement patters. Compromised muscle lengths in the surrounding musculature of a joint can cause abnormal alterations in the movement pattern and lead to pain or even injury.
Muscle imbalances can occur in a variety of situations and for multiple reasons, but the primary method by which they occur is called pattern overload. Pattern overload occurs when the body is required to do the same thing over and over and over again. The human body is very efficient and essentially programable. If the body notices a pattern, it will alter the lengths and tension of muscles to make the pattern more efficient. This means that someone who sits all day long will have muscle length-tension relationships that are more favorable to sitting. The problem then arises when the person asks their body to do other biomechanical things such as standing, walking, running, etc. In this example, the length-tension relationships that favor sitting now hinder other patterns, which can cause serious issues such as chronic low back pain.
Muscle imbalances can crop up anywhere in the body and can account for a significant amount of agony. The tension of the tight muscle places a lot of stress on the joint, the tendons, and the connective tissue. A tight muscle can even choke out a nerve and create debilitating situations such as sciatica and piriformis syndrome. A terrible injustice is that individuals with acute muscle imbalances may go to a medical professional and be advised to get shots, take medication, or even have a surgical procedure in order to reduce the pain. Treating the symptom and not addressing the muscular length-tension relationships surrounding a joint can lead to medically fused spines, hip replacements, knee replacements, medically altered biomechanics, a lifetime of medication, and/or extended periods of pain.
Corrective exercise can feel like a miracle to those who have experienced troublesome pain due to acute muscle imbalances. When a tight muscle is identified and sufficiently addressed, pain can be IMMEDIATELY reduced. This is because corrective exercise specifically tackles the root cause of the problem by restoring altered relationships of muscles through strategic exercise. The objective of a corrective exercise program is to strengthen underactive muscles and create length in overactive muscles. Once the body reprograms itself according to the new patterns, pain in the area will cease to exist.
It is important to note that while corrective exercise can address severe and chronic pain, it is not a substitute for situations that DO require medical attention. Conditions such as arthritis, ligament tears (think ACL), structural deformations, etc., may respond to corrective exercise with little to no improvement. Furthermore, exercising with some of these conditions could further damage the body and should only be considered upon medical clearance and approval. Corrective exercise is to be used only for painfully altered mechanics due to muscle imbalances.