What to do with my higher shoulder?
May 12, 2006 8:41 AM   Subscribe

Standing upright and relaxed, my left shoulder appears to rest higher than my right. Who do I go see?

I had a first visit with a personal trainer this week, and he pointed this out to me. It was suggested that I may be out of alignment in some way, or it could be nothing. I'm athletic (soccer player on weekends), but I've never lifted before. I'm rarely injured although I have had a couple (literally) of lower back issues over the past couple of years (many months apart, irregular, lasting a few days to a week and a half), and my shoulder does seem to do weird popping things if I ask it to, but never painful. Do I go see some type of physical therapist, a chiropractor? Do I not worry about it and just monitor my weightlifting?
posted by striker to Health & Fitness (24 answers total)
a chiropractor
posted by PenguinBukkake at 8:45 AM on May 12, 2006

Your best bet is a chiropractor, but if this isn't causing any problems in your daily life (pain, difficulty lifting, etc.) then why mess with it? I'm not a doctor, of course, and it's just my opinion.
posted by MeetMegan at 8:47 AM on May 12, 2006

I should add that the back thing has happened after being stupid by being an office worker by week and then helping roof a house, play a soccer match or two, and helping paint a house interior on the same weekend, so I'm not really attributing it to being out of alignment. Just putting it out there. I'd really just rather spend the money (I have good insurance) to make sure everything checks out, but want to make sure I start at the right place. I know a number of people who don't like chiropractors and have had some influences from that. Thanks all for your help.
posted by striker at 8:52 AM on May 12, 2006

If you must see someone over a condition that causes you no problems, see a physician or an osteopath, not a chiropractor.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:52 AM on May 12, 2006

You may simply just not be symmetrical. No one is perfectly symmetrical, so no worries.

If it's not bothering you, forget about it.
posted by unixrat at 8:55 AM on May 12, 2006

It's also possibly environmental -- if you carry a messenger-type bag (or did) for a while, this can put differential strain on your bones and muscles. This can make your muscles compensate by getting bigger on one side and not on the other, for example.

I'd definitely start at a GP. And then get a referral to a "sports medicine" doctor. I have huge problems with the sience of chiropractic medicine, so I'm biased against that.
posted by zpousman at 9:00 AM on May 12, 2006

Same thing is true of me, my osteopath pointed it out. He also suggested its entirely normal and that unless the difference is more than a couple of inches not worth worrying about. I would bet a good chunk of the people looking at this question are actually wonky if they bother to actually look in the mirror.

Come on people of Metafilter! Top off, stand up straight in front of the mirror. What do you see?
posted by biffa at 9:14 AM on May 12, 2006

I've had the same thing my whole life. Nothing to worry about if it's not causing a problem.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 9:29 AM on May 12, 2006

It's pretty normal -- if it's not bothering you in any way and your trainer doesn't see any issues with funny muscle strain, don't worry about it.

That said, I have a wonderful chiropractor that I see for issues with my shoulder and back that DO bother me (covered by my insurance.) They're not all quacks.
posted by desuetude at 9:29 AM on May 12, 2006

I think zpouseman has a good idea. Get thee to a sports medicine doctor if you can.
posted by luneray at 9:32 AM on May 12, 2006

A chiropractor is the last place you want to go with a possible skeletal issue. I second the sports medicine/osteopath suggestion.
posted by BigLankyBastard at 9:41 AM on May 12, 2006

It is extremely normal for the shoulder of your dominant arm to hang lower than the shoulder of your non-dominant arm. Whichever one gets more use will hang lower. This works as a party trick to tell whether someone is left or right handed - stand behind them, run your hands down their neck and across their shoulders, whichever one is lower is their dominant arm.

Therapy won't help, but if you use the left one more - try to learn to throw a baseball left-handed - that shoulder will hang lower and they'll come closer to matching.

Now, you could also have screwed up your back in some way, but you don't describe any current back or shoulder pain, so that doesn't sound like it. If you don't have any other posture-related problems, I don't think you have a problem at all.
posted by jellicle at 9:52 AM on May 12, 2006

I should point out that it is not a bone issue, just that "the shoulder" consists of a huge whack of muscles, tendons and ligaments, and these stretch out with use. Major league pitchers have one shoulder waay lower than the other.

Now, if striker comments and tells me he's left-handed, then he needs to go see someone. :)
posted by jellicle at 9:59 AM on May 12, 2006

Yes, for anything to do with your health, visit someone who is an MD, not just a PhD. Unless you've had no luck with what an MD can offer -- then you can try the witchdoctors and see what they'll do.
posted by shepd at 10:26 AM on May 12, 2006

I third a sports doctor. Apart from left/right handedness, different shoulder height could be attributed to weak musculature in one of your shoulders. This is corroborated by the popping sound - perhaps a short ligament somewhere? Anyway, IANAD, so see one and see what s/he says. At the very least you're going to get told that it's nothing, and then you can relax.
posted by aeighty at 10:32 AM on May 12, 2006

I have the same thing -- I think it was that backpack-on-one-shoulder trend when I was 12 -- and when I was doing yoga intensively, it was obvious that it was a problem.

Advice I got (which I didn't try because I didn't want to spend that much money) was to see a chiropractor (and maybe also do deep tissue massage) to straighten (and loosen) things, then keep doing yoga which would likely reinforce the alignment. I was told that if I just saw a chiropractor without keeping up with the yoga (and maybe addressing underlying muscle/tissue things), the misalignment would revert.

The friend recommending the deep massage tried that after a long stint with a chiropractor failed to solve her problem, and the massage cleared it right up, so I'm a bit biased too.
posted by salvia at 10:40 AM on May 12, 2006

In addition to whatever medical help you get, I would also recommend yoga with a qualified teacher; many specialize in working with people with scoliosis and other spine issues and are good at paying attention to how your body overcompensates for uneveness (causing more uneveness). The nice thing about good yoga teachers is that they're trained to look at how you're using your entire body, and to encourage proper alignment and even use of all your muscles, joints, and bones.

And I realize you probably don't have scoliosis, I just use that as an example of something teachers are used to helping correct.

More information in Yoga Journal about scoliosis and back alignment.

This article about loosening and aligning your shoulders may also help.
posted by occhiblu at 11:00 AM on May 12, 2006

Alexander Technique is supposed to be good for this kind of thing. Only ever done a couple of classes myself, but suddenly I find myself recommending it on AskMe twice in one week. Online resources seem quite UK-centric, though.
posted by penguin pie at 11:17 AM on May 12, 2006

I am, in fact, right handed. Didn't know about the dominant arm thing - pretty neat. It's not inches off, but it was immediately noticed by the trainer. I think I'm going to start down the weight training path laid out by the trainer, which included some stretching exercises, and see if it naturally goes either way due to strengthing and stretching out the shoulder and back muscles. I appreciate all the advice given. If it does get worse it sounds like I'll be looking for someone in sports medicine and perhaps talk with a chiropractor.

Ask mefi has once again proven to be a great sounding board and source of realistic and straightforward advice. Thank you all.
posted by striker at 11:58 AM on May 12, 2006

Seriously, it was nothing. Anytime.
posted by Dunwitty at 2:17 PM on May 12, 2006

my doctor pointed out my lower right shoulder to me at my last exam. i already do yoga and pilates, and have tried to be more conscientious about bag-wearing, etc. i think it's just something to be aware of rather than something to "fix"...
posted by judith at 2:29 PM on May 12, 2006


Some unsolicited advice that may induce a flamewar, but which I can't help offering.

I would exercise extreme caution in consulting a chiropractor. Specifically, if a chiropractor uses the following terms in the materials for their practice, or if they espouse any of the following, you should avoid them:
  • "Subluxation"
  • "Nerve interference"
  • "Applied kinesiology"
  • "Contact reflex"
I would familiarize yourself with the NACM, and try to find a more current version of the "trustworthy practitioners" list at Chirobase.

Finally, the Skeptic's Dictionary does an excellent job of explaining both the conflicts within the chiropractic profession and its evolving role in relation to allopathic medicine.
posted by scrump at 4:59 PM on May 12, 2006

I agree with scrump. I went to a family friend chiropractor just once, and she instantly cured some severe neck pain from a repetitive injury. She's an MD in addition to a chiropractor.

Years later I went to a different chiropractor who told me that we have all experienced injuries as children which caused subluxations and only frequent chiropractic treatment could help. I gave her the benefit of a couple of sessions which had no effect and never went back.
posted by nev at 5:39 PM on May 12, 2006

I have the same thing -- I think it was that backpack-on-one-shoulder trend when I was 12

Me too! My right shoulder (dominant hand, though I always shot baskets left-handed) is lower than my left, and to this day I don't feel comfortable slinging things off of my left shoulder—they just don't sit right!
posted by limeonaire at 6:50 PM on May 12, 2006

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