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What's causing my muscle weakness?

At Canberra Spine Centre, we routinely screen a variety of muscles across the body as part of our overall assessments.

It can be surprising and disconcerting for a patient to see muscles of one arm or leg noticeably weaker than those of the other.

In this article, you’ll learn about some of the causes of muscle weakness and why our chiropractors regularly test them at Canberra Spine Centre.

Do weak muscles always need training?

During our testing, when we find weak muscles, often people will comment, ‘oh, that’s my left hand’, or ‘I don’t use that leg as much’.

They may also believe that that muscle just needs some more exercise or training. While subtle differences in muscle power may be a sign of uneven or under use, often the reason is otherwise.

A true weakness due to uneven use may be common in someone like a tennis player (or arm wrestler!), but generally the weaknesses we find have other causes.

Some examples are muscle imbalances due to uneven posture; poor endurance due to fatigue or damage caused by poor joint alignment or function; or altered control due to nerve interference caused by spinal misalignment.

Knowing which is which is an important part of the diagnosis that your chiropractor arrives at after careful examination.

Muscle testing – a window into your function

Muscle testing is an important part of the examination that provides information about how the nervous system is functioning.

Muscle strength testing is not only used by chiropractors but many other healthcare practitioners including doctors, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, exercise physiologists and others.

At Canberra Spine Centre, our exercise physiologist will test certain muscle groups related to your particular problem. During a chiropractic examination, this may also be the case.

Your chiropractor will also perform a general muscle screening examination to check the function of a cross-section of muscles throughout the body. We see this as a window through which we can see more clearly how well your body is functioning.

What your chiropractor looks for when testing muscles

When you have your physical examination, the strength of specific muscle groups is tested against resistance, and each side of the body is compared to the other.

During some muscle tests, it is possible to experience pain which may affect the ability to perform the test with full effort. Sometimes the muscle is clearly weak.

At other times, you may still have strength, but need to put in a lot more effort to pull or push as strongly as the muscle on the other sides.

Your chiropractor will grade your muscle strength according to a scale with 0 being no visible muscle contraction through to 5 which is full strength. Grading like this is important for future comparisons.

Other tests

Muscle testing is just one component of the physical examination when we are determining how the nervous system is functioning.

We also perform a range of other tests including (but not limited to) skin sensation tests, reflexes and nerve tension tests to get an overall picture of how your spine and nervous system are functioning.

Improving strength

For many of our patients, muscle testing is also performed again at the progress and comparative examinations to determine how they are improving with their chiropractic care.

Chiropractic treatment helps to improve spine and nervous system function, and many people show improvements is previously reduced muscle strength at their re-examination.

These tests, along with the others, are a useful way for chiropractors to assess your progress.

Often weakness of one arm or leg, or other part of you may not be anything wrong with the muscle itself.

A thorough examination by an expert can help to identify the true cause, and with the appropriate treatment, get your strength back to what it should be.

If you are concerned about specific injuries or muscle weakness and you’d like to know more, please call us on (02) 6257 9400.

If you would like some more information about the spine and nervous system and how it relates to other aspects of your health, please check out the other articles on our Facebook page or go to our website:

Also, make sure you read the other interesting articles we post on muscles and exercise.