Leg length discrepancy (LLD) affects about 70% of the general population, and can be either structural - when the difference occurs in bone structures - or functional, because of mechanical changes at the lower limbs. The discrepancy can be also classified by its magnitude into mild, intermediate, or severe. Mild LLD has been particularly associated with stress fracture, low back pain and osteoarthritis, and when the discrepancy occurs in subjects whose mechanical loads are increased by their professional, daily or recreational activities, these orthopaedic changes may appear early and severely. The aim of this study was to analyze and compare ground reaction force (GRF) during gait in runners with and without mild LLD. Results showed that subjects with mild LLD of 0.5 to 2.0 cm presented higher values of minimum vertical GRF (0.57 ? 0.07 BW) at the shorter limb compared to the longer limb (0.56 ? 0.08 BW) Therefore, subjects with mild LLD adopt compensatory mechanisms that cause additional overloads to the musculoskeletal system in order to promote a symmetrical gait pattern as showed by the values of absolute symmetric index of vertical and horizontal GRF variables.
An anatomical short leg is due to several orthopedic or medical condition mechanisms. Often, one leg simply stops growing before the other one does and is called ?congenital?. We often see mother-daughters or father-sons who exhibit virtually the same degree of shortness on the same side. Often it is not known why this occurs, but it seems to account for approximately 25% of the population demonstrating a true LLD. Other causes of a true LLD include trauma or broken bones, surgical repair, joint replacement, radiation exposure, tumors or Legg-Calves-Perthes disease.
Faulty feet and ankle structure profoundly affect leg length and pelvic positioning. The most common asymmetrical foot position is the pronated foot. Sensory receptors embedded on the bottom of the foot alert the brain to the slightest weight shift. Since the brain is always trying to maintain pelvic balance, when presented with a long left leg, it attempts to adapt to the altered weight shift by dropping the left medial arch (shortening the long leg) and supinating the right arch to lengthen the short leg.1 Left unchecked, excessive foot pronation will internally rotate the left lower extremity, causing excessive strain to the lateral meniscus and medial collateral knee ligaments. Conversely, excessive supination tends to externally rotate the leg and thigh, creating opposite knee, hip and pelvic distortions.
The only way to decipher between anatomical and functional leg length inequalities (you can have both) is by a physical measurement and series of biomechanical tests. It is actually a simple process and gets to the true cause of some runner?s chronic foot, knee, hip and back pain. After the muscles are tested and the legs are measured it may be necessary to get a special X-ray that measures both of your thighs (Femurs) and legs (Tibias). The X-ray is read by a medical radiologist who provides a report of the actual difference down to the micrometer leaving zero room for error. Once the difference in leg length is known, the solution becomes clear.
Non Surgical Treatment
Treatment of leg length inequality involves many different approaches, such as orthotics, epiphysiodesis, shortening, and lengthening, which can be used alone or combined in an effort to achieve equalization of leg lengths. Leg length inequality of 2 cm or less is usually not a functional problem. Often, leg length can be equalized with a shoe lift, which usually corrects about two thirds of the leg length inequality. Up to 1 cm can be inserted in the shoe. For larger leg length inequalities, the shoe must be built up. This needs to be done for every shoe worn, thus limiting the type of shoe that the patient can wear. Leg length inequalities beyond 5 cm are difficult to treat with a shoe lift. The shoe looks unsightly, and often the patient complains of instability with such a large lift. A foot-in-foot prosthesis can be used for larger leg length inequalities. This is often done as a temporizing measure for young children with significant leg length inequalities. The prosthesis is bulky, and a fixed equinus contracture may result.
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The type of surgery depends on the type of problem. Outpatient procedures may be used to alter the growth of the limb. This is often done through small incisions. If an outpatient procedure is done, your child can continue with most regular activities. Other times, surgery may be very involved and require the use of an external device that is attached to the limb with pins and wires. This device may be left on for months to correct the deformity or lengthen the leg. If this type of surgery is required, your child will be making weekly visits to Cincinnati Children's.