We’ve probably all had the surprise, some day, to realise that one of our ears was sitting higher than the other, that our shoulders were not level or that one of our feet was turned in or out significantly more than the other. Such asymmetries occur in everyone and are just a normal part of who we are. But why are we not symmetrical?
Let’s start really early, with our time inside our mother’s womb. The way we were resting in that confined space moulded our very malleable developing body, often creating noticeable asymmetries. As a testimony of this, we’ve all come across newborn babies with a very obviously irregular head shape. Then there is birth, with the strong and uneven compressive forces it exerts on our body. Then there is life, with all of its challenges and the way we respond to them.
Fairly early, we start favouring a side and develop our handedness. This and other habits (e.g. postural habits) we develop over time cause us to solicit our body asymmetrically, creating new asymmetries or reinforcing existing ones. We might for example pick up a somewhat one-sided sport such as tennis, or always sit with the same leg crossed over the other one.
As we encounter challenges such as physical injury or diseases, our body adapts and compensates the best it can, often causing further asymmetry. Interestingly, whenever there is some vulnerability, either superficially or in deeper structures, our body becomes protective and starts ‘hugging’ the affected area. This natural protective reflex can sometimes cause pronounced asymmetries, where someone would be literally standing bent to one side and unable to straighten up.
Asymmetries are common and don’t necessarily hinder our physical or other life endeavours. But when asymmetries become too significant, they start causing undue stress on our body, leading, over time, to pain and injury. This is when an Osteopath should be consulted to uncover and address primary areas of restriction and the resulting deleterious, pain-causing compensations.