A difference in the length of your lower and/or upper legs is called a leg length discrepancy. This is fairly common, actually. One study reported that 32 percent of 600 individuals had a difference in their leg lengths ranging from one-fifth to three-fifths of an inch. A person might not even notice if one leg is slightly longer than the other. However, if the difference is not minimal, treatment may be required.
Leg discrepancy can develop from a medical issue in any portion of the femur or tibia. One leg may lengthen, but leg shortening is much more common. Factors that can cause leg length discrepancy include inherited growth deficiencies. Infections. A bone infection can cause delayed growth in the affected limb. Injury. If your child breaks a leg, it may be shorter once it heals. This is most likely to happen if the fracture or break was complicated, an open fracture, or an injury that affected the growth plate near the end of the bone. Alternatively, a break can cause bones to grow faster after healing, making a leg longer. Tumors. Legg-Calve-Perthes disease. This is a condition that affects the ball (femoral head) of the hip joint. The femoral head may be friable and damage easily, sometimes leading to shortening of the thigh bone. Hemihypertrophy. In children with this condition, one side of the body grows more quickly than the other. Vascular malformations. These are abnormal clusters of veins and arteries that can form close to the bone and stimulate growth. Juvenile arthritis. Inflammation from arthritis can stimulate growth in the affected leg and cause discrepancy.
Often there are few or no symptoms prior to the age of 25-35. The most common symptom is chronic lower back pain, but also is frequently middle and upper back pain. Same-sided and repeated injury or pain to the hip, knee and/or ankle is also a hallmark of a long-standing untreated LLD. It is not uncommon to have buttock or radiating hip pain that is non-dermatomal (not from a disc) and tends to go away when lying down.
On standing examination one iliac crest may be higher/lower than the other. However a physiotherapist, osteopath or chiropractor will examine the LLD in prone or supine position and measure it, confirming the diagnosis of structural (or functional) LLD. The LLD should be measured using bony fixed points. X-Ray should be taken in a standing position. The osteopath, physiotherapist or chiropractor will look at femoral head & acetabulum, knee joints, ankle joints.
Non Surgical Treatment
You and your physician should discuss whether treatment is necessary. For minor LLDs in adults with no deformity, treatment may not be necessary. Because the risks may outweigh the benefits, surgical treatment to equalize leg lengths is usually not recommended if the difference is less than one inch. For these small differences, your physician may recommend a shoe lift. A lift fitted to the shoe can often improve your walking and running, as well as relieve back pain caused by LLD. Shoe lifts are inexpensive and can be removed if they are not effective. They do, however, add weight and stiffness to the shoe.
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Surgery to shorten the longer leg. This is less involved than lengthening the shorter leg. Shortening may be done in one of two ways. Closing the growth plate of the long leg 2-3 years before growth ends (around age 11-13), letting the short leg catch up. This procedure is called an epiphysiodesis. Taking some bone from the longer leg once growth is complete to even out leg lengths. Surgery to lengthen the shorter leg. This surgery is more involved than surgery to shorten a leg. During this surgery, cuts are made in the leg bone. An external metal frame and bar are attached to the leg bone. This frame and bar slowly pull on the leg bone, lengthening it. The frame and bar must be worn constantly for months to years. When the frame and bar are removed, a leg cast is required for several months. This surgery requires careful and continued follow-up with the surgeon to be sure that healing is going well.