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Which Side Are You On?

Question: What do humpback whales, lemurs, toads, chimps, and humans all have in common?


Answer: These creatures all have a dominant "side". Humpback whales bottom-feed on their right side. Lemurs tend to be lefties when it comes to grabbing their food. Toads use their right forepaw more than their left. Chimpanzees hold a branch up with the left hand and pick the fruit with their right hand. Humans usually balance their center of gravity over their right leg for functional ease and postural security. (1.)

When patients come into our clinic, they will tell us that they have shoulder pain, hip pain, knee pain, etc. One of our first questions to our patients is "Which side are you experiencing pain?" Most people think of this as a common question of location. We think of it more as a common question to determine the mechanism behind the pain.

We look at the human body as anatomically and functionally being very asymmetrical in design. The right side of our brain is very different from the left side of our brain. Although the two brain hemispheres share responsibilities for some functions, each hemisphere has its own “specialties”. Each hemisphere controls the opposite side of the body. The left brain has more responsibilities for speech, language comprehension, and motor planning. Therefore, right extremities become dominant in communication, growth, and development. (1.)

9 out of 10 people are right handed, but all people are "right sided."

This asymmetry is seen throughout the human body. It is a phenomenon called "lateralization". It is the preference for doing or perceiving things more with one side of the body than the other. Lateralization saves space and, therefore, working capacity, by not requiring that both hemispheres do the same thing. (2.) For example, our right lung has three lobes while our left lung has two. We have a heart on the left side of our body. We have a large liver on the right side of our body. Our circulatory system, lymphatic system, and visual system all have perfectly "balanced imbalances". When these normal imbalances are not regulated by reciprocal function during walking, breathing, and normal activities of daily living, a pattern can develop creating structural weaknesses, instabilities, overactive muscles, disc bulges, etc.

Remember, the human body was built to push, pull, lift, bend, squat, reach, and move! They were meant to have asymmetrical balance. When these bodies are stuck behind a work desk, on a couch, or are subjected to doing activities in repeating patterns, they lose variability and people start to develop aches and pains. Stretching, manipulating, foam-rolling, and soft tissue work might recognize these imbalances, but they do not address the cause of these problems!

ProActive physical therapists use Postural Restoration Institute® principles to position and balance these systems for integrated asymmetrical function. When we see right knee pain, we will put patients on a different program compared to a program we would design for someone with left knee pain! We have different exercises for our clients with right shoulder pain versus left shoulder pain. We respect the power of alternating and reciprocating activities. We respect the power of proper respiration during these activities. We respect the idea of chains of muscles that are activated or inhibited at any given time to position our body in a certain way. Our body is asymmetrical. We use one side of our body differently than we use the other side of the body. Therefore, we should have a specialized approach that respects right versus left differences!



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