Can a lifetime of labor make only one arm substantially larger?
November 15, 2004 8:08 PM   Subscribe

In On the Waterfront, Edie's pop says to her, "See this arm? It's two inches longer'n the other one. That's years of workin' and sweatin', liftin' and swingin' a hook. And every time I heisted a box or a coffee bag I says to myself--this is for Edie, so she can be a teacher or somethin' decent." Can a lifetime of labor really do that to your arm?
posted by profwhat to Health & Fitness (11 answers total)
Several years ago I saw a show on the Discovery Channel or somesuch that showed x-rays of a famous pitcher's arm (might have been Clemens? I can't remember). Details are sketchy, but what I do remember is that the bones of his pitching arm were noticeably thicker and heavier than the bones in his other arm. It's instilled in me a lifelong paranoia of favoring my right arm to the point of noticeable asymmetry.
posted by saladin at 8:35 PM on November 15, 2004

My dad once pointed out too me that you can tell people who caddied alot by the fact that one shoulder is usually much lower than the other. Unfortunately, my lower middle class background hasn't given me much ancedotal evidence either way.
posted by drezdn at 8:59 PM on November 15, 2004

A 30-year lifetime of favoring my left hand for carrying stuff so my right could be free for things needing more dexterity have made my left wrist (no jokes, please) a bit thicker.
posted by notsnot at 9:15 PM on November 15, 2004

It's a little more even now, but this used to be really obvious in tennis players when I started watching matches in the '70s. A player's racqueting arm would be much beefier and in some cases, longer.
posted by whatnot at 9:19 PM on November 15, 2004

Completely anedcotal, but... Rock-Climbers who do it really long-term get longer arms than the average. There are some guys at my gym who look like little apes.
posted by SpecialK at 9:28 PM on November 15, 2004

It's easy to imagine that extreme, prolonged, unnatural use can have painful, grotesque effects on the human anatomy. At the same time I can't help wondering about many of the specific examples that are being brought up in this thread.

On page 143 of Men at Work, Will discusses the effect of a career of pitching on Sandy Koufax's arm. Koufax had his wardrobe redone. The sleeves of his jackets were shortened. I don't think his arm shrank. Not exactly. I'm not sure exactly what went on with his pitching arm anatomically. I only skimmed the passage but it is described in greater depth if you care to read it. Also, I think, the surrounding material might be relevant to your question.
posted by stuart_s at 9:40 PM on November 15, 2004

Looking at cadavers (ahem), it's pretty trivial to tell whether the person was right handed or left handed, although not always at the level of surface anatomy.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 9:52 PM on November 15, 2004

My ex was a tennis player, and his right arm was almost two inches longer than his left. Again anectdotal, but overall it's a a completely believable theory to me.
posted by vers at 10:36 PM on November 15, 2004

A friend of mine used to play a msuical instrument of some kind - I think it may have been a violin. She told me that after putting in at least 3 hours of practice, every day, for years and years one of her arms became shorter than the other (that is didn't grow at the same rate), and one of her breasts was much smaller than its counterpart (like, an A cup vs. a C cup). She said that both got back to normal after she stopped playing altogether.

Now, her story might be what it is because it happened in her teens and through early 20's, when her body was agressively growing and had reserves to grow further yet.
posted by blindcarboncopy at 10:51 PM on November 15, 2004

I have played the violin from the age of 7 until now. My left shoulder joint is not the best (rotator cuff impingement) and the ligaments between my left shoulder and the chest are very tight. The upshot is that I have about a half inch extra reach with my left arm, because the attachment point is effectively further forward and upward compared to the right, and my rotator cuff doesn't hold it in the socket so well. I don't think that my left arm is actually longer, however.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 10:56 PM on November 15, 2004

I'm in a general human anatomy class right now, and one of the things my instructor stressed while we were covering bones, was that bones respond to stress. They get grow and get thicker in response to stress.
posted by Apoch at 4:18 AM on November 16, 2004

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