At least eighty-five percent of us are naturally “wired” to use the right side of our body more efficiently than the left side of our body. Right hand dominance is the norm, and this is reflected in many of the objects that we deal with on a daily basis. Here is a list of things that come to mind that exemplify this point.
1. Automatic transmission cars
People are taught to depress both the gas pedal and the brake with their right foot. This is considered by safety experts the safest way to operate a car. You really do not need your left foot to drive.
2. Bicycle gears
I do not think that I have ever seen a bicycle that has principle gear shifts on the left handlebar. You only have the option to use your right hand to switch gears, unless of course you are comfortable with flipping over your handlebars at high speeds.
3. Water fountains
The button is on the right side. Try pressing the button with your left hand – you might go thirsty and look stupid at the same time.
I have awful childhood memories of learning to use scissors in elementary school. The teachers always tried to make everyone, including the “lefties”, use the conventional right-handed scissors for art projects.
Try to unzip your pants with your left hand. Wait a minute, there is a flap of cloth that prevents you from doing that efficiently!
6. Lecture hall desks
Think back to college. Lecture hall desks have a small amount of space on the right side of the seat to write. Occasionally the left-most seat in the row would be set up for a lefty. You lefties had better get to class early.
Obscure, but true. Boomerangs are designed to be thrown by right-handed people. I tried to throw one with my left hand once. I arrived at the conclusion that either the boomerang was faulty or I was not meant to play sports.
I am sure that there are countless other examples of how society encourages the usage of the right side of the body over the left side (if you have any other examples, please let me know in the comment section).
All of this right-sided usage begs the following question: When we use one side of our body disproportionately more than the other, are there any negative consequences?
I see patients every day who have what I call a “functional neglect” of the left side. Over years of living, many people develop a stronger right side that is more tuned in to performing simple tasks such as standing, walking, and manipulating objects. The left side in contrast becomes weaker and less neurologically available. The body is much more prone to injury when asymmetry exists! I routinely see people who have lower back pain for this reason.
If you find yourself woefully neglectful of your left leg in particular, here are some tips for reversing the trend.
1. Recognize your bad habits and make a conscious effort to avoid them.
If you find yourself constantly crossing your weak leg over the strong leg while seated, make an effort to minimize the time spent in this position. If you stand with your weight pitched to the right side, make an effort to place your weight equally on both legs.
Make a conscious effort to use the weaker leg when getting up from a chair. This can be reinforced by making sure that your feet are placed evenly: the stronger foot should not be placed behind the weaker foot (a common problem).
2. Practice counting steps, stairs, and repetitions of exercises in tandem with your weaker side’s action.
I have found that, when walking up stairs, it is easier to engage my weaker side if I mentally count each time my weaker heel makes contact with a step. This is an effective means of tricking the brain into paying more attention to your weaker side.
With clients who are in a great deal of pain and cannot negotiate stairs, I start them simply walking with the same premise. For high level athletes and otherwise fit clients, I will count out repetitions of walking lunges and step ups only while the weaker side is performing the work.
3. Carry objects as symmetrically as possible.
If you must carry heavy objects to and from work every day, it is worth your while to purchase a backpack. This will allow your weaker side to perform its share of the work without being overwhelmed.
4. Seek the advice of a medical professional if needed.
In some cases there are long term effects of excessive reliance on one side that require intervention beyond what the individual can accomplish.
For example, adolescents who play sports that require repetitive usage of the dominant side often develop an actual difference in leg lengths. This is due to stimulation of the bones’ growth plates. Figure skaters that jump and land on the right leg, and football linemen who constantly are blocking to one side end up stimulating bone growth disproportionately. The result in adulthood is a stronger leg that is slightly longer than the weaker leg.
Image credits: Top © Pressmaster / Fotolia; Bottom © Dusan Kostic / Fotolia
Ask a Physical Therapist a Question