It’s very natural for us to favor one side or the other of our body, to specialize different parts for doing different tasks. Almost everyone develops right-handedness or left-handedness, but beyond that, we often train our right foot for kicking the soccer ball, our left shoulder for holding up our purse, our left hand for holding the can opener while our right hand twists.
This process is really great as it allows us to learn coordinated, smooth movements so that we can do complicated things like manipulate tools, play musical instruments, and drive vehicles. However, another very natural process is for our bodies to be shaped by how we use them. So when we always hoist our baby on our left hip so the right hand is free to hold the phone, our cells adapt to this behavior only on the sides being used for each particular job. Developing preference like this wouldn’t be such a problem if we didn’t do it with such repetitiveness. The more you favor one side over the other, the more unbalanced the cells’ work load becomes, the more potential there is for an injury to arise through overuse or underuse.
Did you ever get an ache in one wrist, shoulder, hip, or knee after a long day of gardening, a big hike, or a stressful day at work? I probably wasn’t there, so I don’t actually know what happened, but a common thing that occurs is that you overuse one side or one group of muscles without realizing it until your body starts aching as a way to say, “Stop!” It’s often difficult to tell what exactly you did “wrong” because the way you move and recruit your body parts is so habitual. Many people even continue to do the same activity that is causing the issue, even though it is painful.
When you feel pain, it is useful to listen to what your body is trying to say. If you can, why not try to find a different, pain-free way of doing things and avoid creating a longer-lasting injury? Just like an artist sometimes needs to step back from their painting and return to it a few days later to see it with different eyes, it can take a lot of time and practice to notice your habitual movements. Below, I’ll give some ideas to play with, but the real work comes from paying attention to how you use your body over time.
Things to notice:
Shoulder used to hold purse/bag strap
Hand you use to pull or push open door/drawer/cupboard
Foot you use to step up onto something
Foot you land on going downhill
Hand that holds your glass/mug/cup
Hand that holds dish and other hand that scrubs it clean
Hand holding the computer mouse, finger that clicks the mouse
Arm/hip that holds baby/small pet
Side of the bed you always sleep on
Side of the couch you always sit on
Angle you tend to hold your head at when on the phone
Finger that types on the phone
Ear that listens to the phone
Angle you tend to hold your head/ arm at when reading
Arm/shoulder used most for carrying heavy objects
How you hold a broom/shovel/vacuum/hose
Hand that uses the toilet paper
Hand that holds the dog leash/horse reins
Leg that you tend to stand on most
Leg you tend to cross over when sitting
Obviously, be safe. Perhaps don’t switch which hand holds the knife while chopping vegetables. Don’t try to change any activity in a way that makes you feel worried about injuring yourself in a different way. But particularly if you find yourself aching after doing an activity over and over, it’s worth slowing down and trying out using other parts of your body to accomplish the task. Or just choose one or two habits you notice, and make a goal to switch them up at least once a day. It’s not that hard to give each side a chance.