This is a common question I get asked in the clinic/gym by people who are wondering why their one hip or “love handle” is bigger than the other. People usually believe their one love handle is fatter than the other.
“Fat” most likely is NOT the reason why your one love handle looks bigger on that side.
In most cases the reason your one love handle is bigger than the other is because your hip bone is just higher or more prominent on that side. This can be from multiple reasons. In this article I will discuss why your hip is higher on that side, and ways to fix it.
First I want to discuss that your “love handle” is actually your hip bone (called your innominate). So the “love handle” has gotten a bad rep by being a notorious spot for stubborn fat accumulation. This is true, but usually the reason one side looks bigger is not from having more fat, but from the bones underneath.
I have seen people lose tons of bodyweight thinking this will make their love handle less prominent, and then still notice that their one love handle is bigger than the other.
THIS is because it was never from the fat, but because their one hip was higher than the other one.
This can be a huge frustration for people, they lose a bunch of weight, but then their love handles still look uneven, and they aren’t happy with their appearance.
Look at the image above; you can see that the left hip bone is higher than the right hip bone. So if this was your body, your left love handle would appear bigger than the right love handle, but really the actual cause is that your left HIP BONE is higher than the right hip bone.
HOW TO CHECK YOUR HIP LEVEL?
You need to check your hip level to see if this is the reason your love handles appear uneven. Most likely you will find one hip is higher than the other, and this is why your love handles appear uneven. So “fat” is not the cause.
This can be done by taking a picture of yourself or having a friend or family member feel with their hands. Have the person check by bending down to eye level, and have them feel with both hands until they hit the bones (iliac crest). They should be able to look at their hand level and visualize which hip is higher.
Take a picture of yourself. Check your hip level by drawing a line straight across the top of both hips and shoulders. You should be able to visually see if your hips are uneven.
FOR EXAMPLE, Look at this picture, you can see by the red line that his hips are uneven. His right hip is higher than his left.
..if you completed the steps above, and found that your one hip bone is higher than the other, we need answer the question: WHY is it higher?
Potential causes of uneven love handles:
I am going to discuss the 3 main reasons that can cause your one hip to be higher than the other. As well as how to fix it, so that your hips are even and your love handles will appear the same size!
1. Leg length discrepancy can cause uneven love handles
I see this problem all the time. I will check someone’s hip level and notice that their one hip is higher than the other, and then I check the length of both of their legs and they are uneven too! This is one of the main causes for uneven hips.
The question is which causes which. Is your hip higher because your legs are not the same length, or do your legs appear uneven only because your hips are uneven. This is a tricky question that can be answered with careful inspection. Check your leg length by having someone look at your legs while you are laying down on your back. Make sure that you keep both legs together and that you are pointing your feet/toes up. Then compare by looking at the bottom of each foot, check to see if one leg is shorter than the other.
If you find that your one leg appears shorter than the other, this could be causing your hip to shift higher to compensate. A shorter leg can cause problems/compensations throughout your entire body, so it should be addressed immediately.
HOW TO FIX LEG LENGTH?
There are a few simple ways to fix this leg length issue. An easy fix is a “heel lift”. This is a simple device that can be inserted inside your shoe to help even out your legs/hips. This will help even out yours hips, and make your love handles appear symmetrical.
I usually recommend my clients purchase the Warwick heel lift because it is fairly inexpensive and it can be adjusted to various heights.
Once you have the heel lift, you need to figure out what height you should adjust it. This can be done by standing on a small magazine or book with your shorter leg until your legs/hips are even. So the height of the magazine or book is the length that your one leg is shorter than the other. You should then adjust the heel lift to this appropriate height to even out your legs.
2. Muscular imbalances (tightness) can cause uneven love handles
Muscle tightness and imbalances can cause your one hip to shift higher than the other. This is because these muscles attach to the hip bones, so if a muscle is tight it will pull on that bone and cause it to shift higher!
This is a common cause of uneven hips, and can make your one love handle appear bigger than the other. A tight muscle can dramatically shift a bone and change your body structure. I see this often especially from people who have a desk job, sit in class, or drive often.
There is one muscle in particular that is the MAIN cause of uneven hips.
The muscle is called the Quadratus Lumborum aka “The QL”.
You can see this muscle shown in the image to the right. This muscle connects from your spine down to your hip (iliac crest), and you have this muscle on both sides of your spine. So you can see that if one of these muscles get tight, it will cause that same hip to shift higher than the other side. THIS IS VERY COMMON.
HOW TO CHECK YOURS:
So first you need to see which hip is higher by completing the steps above. Whichever hip is higher (R) or (L) then that same side (Quadratus lumborum) muscle would be tight.
For example, if your right hip is higher then your right QL muscle may be tight, and vice versa.
So you can confirm this by feeling the muscle. If this muscle is tight, it will be quite tender when you press on it. I recommend putting a tennis ball under your back while laying down or press into a tennis ball against a wall to check if this muscle is tender.
HOW TO FIX THIS TIGHT MUSCLE:
The easy part is that you can use a tennis ball to release this muscle. To release it put the tennis or lacrosse ball under your back about 1 inch from your spine. This muscle will be tender, so try to stay on it for 1-2 minutes. This will help release the tight Quadratus Lumborum muscle.
ONCE you find the tender muscle, HOLD the ball there for 2 minutes, and repeat 2-3x a day.
I recommend people use a lacrosse ball because it is much firmer than a tennis ball and can really get deep into the muscle. You could also try a foam roller.
This should be done everyday until the tenderness is gone, and the muscle feels good. Then check your hip level and see if it made a difference. Your hips may appear more even. Also, you need to be stretching this muscle as well. Below are a few illustrations of the best stretches for the Quadratus Lumborum muscle.
Hold each stretch for 30-60 seconds and repeat 2-3x a day.
Combine these stretches with the tennis ball/lacrosse ball release to help release your tight Quadratus Lumborum muscle.
Here is what I use to release my QL muscle, you can apply more bodyweight into a lacrosse ball because it is much firmer than a tennis ball, and it really gets much deeper into the muscle compared to a tennis ball.
3. Scoliosis can cause uneven love handles
Scoliosis is an abnormal curvature of the spine, which is fairly common, and this can cause one of your hips to compensate by shifting higher due to the spine curving.
As you can see from the illustration, the spine curvature can cause an abnormal shift of the hips, causing one hip to be higher than the other. This can cause your one love handle to appear bigger than the other!
Scoliosis can be caused from various reasons, some people are born with it, and some develop it due to muscular imbalances.
If you have never noticed your scoliosis before, then you could have developed scoliosis from poor posture and leaning towards one side.
The good news is that the same Quadratus Lumborum stretch/release discussed above can be used to help your scoliosis. ONLY If the scoliosis is caused from muscular imbalances. If the scoliosis was present at birth (congenital scoliosis) then the stretching will most likely not help.
A foam roller can really help decompress and re-align your spine. This will also help stretch and decompress your muscles and fascia. Here is the foam roller I use.
So, Why Are My Love Handles Uneven?
So if you have noticed that your one love handle appears bigger than the other, it may be due to one of the reasons discussed above. Go through this article and test yourself, figure out if your hip is higher due to a problem with your leg length, muscular imbalances, scoliosis, or maybe a combination of all of these, because they usually pair together.
- If the problem is from uneven leg length, then purchase a heel lift, you will notice a big difference in how you feel, and over a few weeks of wearing it you will notice changes in your posture and hip level.
- If the problem is from muscular imbalances, particularly your Quadratus Lumborum muscle then you need to stretch/release that muscle on the same side as the higher hip. This will help relax the muscle, and your higher hip with slowly start to lower over time.
- If the problem is from scoliosis of the spine, then you need to figure out if the scoliosis is caused from muscular imbalances or if you were born with it. If it is caused from muscular imbalances/postural then you can follow the same Quadratus lumborum as well as other stretches to help re-align your posture.
SO REMEMBER, next time you look in the mirror and noticed your one love handle looks bigger than the other, CONSIDER that maybe your hip bone is just higher or more prominent, and it can be fixed with some tips listed above.