Unbalanced swinging arms
January 8, 2013 10:46 AM   Subscribe

When I walk, my left arm swings while my right arm stays almost immobile. Is there something wrong with me?

It was only in the past couple of years that I realized the way my arms move when I walk is abnormal. In short, my left arm swings fine, but my right arm just stays to my side, almost immobile. When I become aware of this and try to also swing my right arm in sync with my left, it just feels...unnecessary. I have to constantly think about swinging my right arm, and so I end up just letting it hang. But when my left arm is unavailable - like when I'm holding something - my right arm starts swinging as if it did so all along.

I'm only in my early 20s, and this unbalance has never really been a problem (which is why I only really became aware of it recently), so I've never found the need to consult a doctor. But it's increasingly unnerving me, and I wonder if it looks strange to other people. And if there is something wrong, can this behavior be changed?

Thanks, in advance!
posted by facehugger to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Do you carry a weapon or device on your right side? Perhaps a blackberry in a holster, something along those lines?
posted by Sternmeyer at 10:50 AM on January 8, 2013

I figure it just comes down to muscle memory. I usually wear a book bag over my right shoulder and notice the same tendency.
posted by Nomyte at 10:57 AM on January 8, 2013

Hmm, it might be a symptom of other imbalances. I always walked a little funny. I think it's possible I have dyspraxia. I started thinking a little more about it when I started having issues with my neck in my mid-twenties. Some books that I found interesting were Gokhale's Eight Steps to a Pain Free Back, which while it seems like a book about back pain, it's actually about the larger issue of how to move/sit/stand in a way that preserves the integrity of your body. Mary Bond's New Rules of Posture also helped me think more about how I walk and how to walk in a way that doesn't cause, for example, the bad calluses I'd developed on one foot, tight hamstrings, and other issues I have. I think it's better now that younger children with dyspraxia are starting to see occupational therapists young so these things can be prevented. You might not have anything wrong with you, but it's worth thinking about.
posted by melissam at 11:00 AM on January 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: re: Sternmeyer - Haha! No, I do not, fortunately.

re: Nomtye - I have memories of carrying heavy things mostly with my right hand, but I didn't really do so often.

re: melissam - dyspraxia? I'll check it out.
posted by facehugger at 11:22 AM on January 8, 2013

This is something it would be important to see a doctor about.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:27 AM on January 8, 2013

Sorry, that was a lame answer: this could be a lot of things and it's a quirky thing that would be hard to get a handle on over the internet, considering it's been going on for a couple of years (so it's not that you didn't sleep right last night) so it would be a good idea to talk to a doctor about it.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:29 AM on January 8, 2013

I have gait quirks that are tied to non-life-threatening neurological issues, as well as repetitive motion injuries and long-term ENT problems. It could be so many different things causing this, some of which are far more serious than others. If you have any other problems that could fall under a "potential neuro problem" category, then yes, see a doctor. (Other issues being: numbness/tingling in that side, difficulty using that hand properly, issues with the leg on that side like dragging or numbness, etc.)

But, like. I freaked out and went to the doctor the other day because the already slightly wonky side of my face was suddenly extremely wonky; lots of poking and prodding and a few expensive scans later, it was determined that I slept on my face funny the night before. So even with a plethora of distressing symptoms stuff can turn out to be fuck all.
posted by elizardbits at 11:45 AM on January 8, 2013

I agree with A Terrible Llama, but would say that it's something you should maybe talk to your doctor about the next time you see him or her, rather than making an appointment for it (and if you haven't seen your doctor in a while, this would be a great excuse).

I do this myself, except reversed, and it's clearly because I spent my whole life in the military, where you carry stuff in your left hand so your right is always free to salute. I've had a couple of doctors and a chiropractor check it out, and they unanimously tell me it's weird but doesn't seem to be a problem.
posted by Etrigan at 11:48 AM on January 8, 2013

Are you depressed? The style of my gait (or profound lack thereof) has been distinctly tied to my mood disorder over the last decade--during most of which my left arm has not swung at all, much to my dismay. This is not medical advice, there are many potential causes of gait problems such as this.
posted by Lorin at 12:02 PM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

My daughter did a similar thing with her arms when she was a toddler (I haven't kept track to see if she still does). Doctors diagnosed her as having a mildest, absolutely mildest, should-have-a-different-name cerebral palsy. That would have been present from birth, so if you didn't do it when you were a kid than that isn't it.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:17 PM on January 8, 2013

Yes, I agree with the neurological angle. The first thing I thought of was that what you describe sounds like my mom's Parkinson's symptoms. While that would be really rare for a person as young as you are, if I were in your position, I'd get this checked out for peace of mind.
posted by xiaolongbao at 2:59 PM on January 8, 2013

Read this interview with Pete Egoscue. His books are available through Amazon or your local library.

What's going on (quite probably) is that your posture muscles are not strong enough to hold you up. This comes from leading a sedentary lifestyle, not getting adequate movement and range of motion daily. We sit in chairs all day, get ferried around by machines, then sit more when we get home. We evolved to move ourselves through space, and human bodily health is intimately tied to daily movement. So is brain health and neurogenesis.

The muscles from your right shoulder are being recruited to fill in for muscles across the body that aren't doing their jobs when you walk. When the brain says "Move", the body responds as best it can, even if it means dragooning in muscles from across the body. This means they're not available to move your arm properly when you walk, locking it in place. When you move you're doing it in a manner not in line with the body's biomechanics. This will also cause long-term degeneration of the joints. Imagine opening a closing a car door that is misaligned, that squealing sound. Do that enough times...

This is long-term bad. Because biomechanically, the human body is supposed to function on the principle of bilateral symmetry. One arm not swinging as you walk is a sign of dysfunction. Eventually, this will cause pain when you move. Which will cause you to move less. And therein is the downward spiral.

Pete Egoscue was shot while a Marine in Vietnam, and developed his method rehabbing himself from that. The body heals itself, and does it through movement, from the inside out.

Address this before the pain associated with movement begins.

Best of luck!
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 3:56 PM on January 8, 2013

Shoulder asymmetry is overwhelmingly common - a person's dominant-side shoulder will always be lower and more hunched than the opposing side due to more frequent use. Same goes for the hips; the spine connects both, so will be affected also. The imbalance can radiate to affect every joint in the body in some way or other, and thus present some very off-kilter movement patterns that slowly but surely compound your injury risks.

Your best course of action is to get a postural assessment from a physio (a good personal trainer, remedial massage therapist or even chiro may also offer insight). It's troublesome to try and resolve asymmetries by taking a simplistic, symptomatic approach such as "stretch your right pec minor" or "strengthen your left quadratus lumborum"; those may both be parts of the treatment, but need to be part of a holistic plan of attack that treats the dysfunctions in the correct order for maximum chance of success. This is what a physio will help you with.

In the meantime, try to be more left-handed in your day to day activities. Work on improving your joint mobility and strength, and stay aware of your postural habits. If you find yourself standing like LL Cool J, stop.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 4:54 PM on January 8, 2013

I have Parkinson's disease which was diagnosed when I was 48 and the fact that I didn't swing my right arm when I walked was part of what alerted my doctor to the diagnosis. However, I also have a friend who doesn't swing either arm when he walks and I'm very sure he doesn't have Parkinson's, so your situation is by no means diagnostic. It is a good reason to get a workup by your doctor or, better yet, by a neurologist, especially if your doctor doesn't know enough to check you for cogwheeling rigidity - another symptom of Parkinson's which no one even knows exists. The thing is, it probably isn't Parkinson's, but if it is, it's a good idea to get it identified early on because the major symptoms can be delayed very effectively with early diagnosis and treatment.

Just don't let anyone pooh-pooh you out of this - it deserves evaluation.
posted by aryma at 6:53 PM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

On first read this seemed pretty unconcerning to me, but then I noticed that you "only really became aware of it recently." I don't think this is the sort of thing most people are oblivious to for years and suddenly notice-- it totally could be a new development. And that's definitely a bit worrisome.
posted by threeants at 8:19 PM on January 8, 2013

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