The field of leg length inequalities or leg length discrepancy often abbreviated as LLD is well documented and understood. There are two types of short legs; functional (functional LLD) and structural (true LLD). A functional short leg occurs as a result of muscle imbalances, pelvic torsion or other mechanical reasons. The millimeters of ?appearing? short are typically less than 10, and are do not appear on Xray. This article is about structural or anatomical short legs.
Leg length discrepancies can be caused by: hip and knee replacements, lower limb injuries, bone diseases, neuromuscular issues and congenital problems. Although discrepancies of 2 cm or less are most common, discrepancies can be greater than 6 cm. People who have LLD tend to make up for the difference by over bending their longer leg or standing on the toes of their shorter leg. This compensation leads to an inefficient, up and down gait, which is quite tiring and over time can result in posture problems as well as pain in the back, hips, knees and ankles.
The symptoms of limb deformity can range from a mild difference in the appearance of a leg or arm to major loss of function of the use of an extremity. For instance, you may notice that your child has a significant limp. If there is deformity in the extremity, the patient may develop arthritis as he or she gets older, especially if the lower extremities are involved. Patients often present due to the appearance of the extremity (it looks different from the other side).
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
Structural leg length discrepancy can be treated with a heel lift in the shorter leg?s shoe, if the leg length is greater than 5 mm. The use and size of the heel lift is determined by a physical therapist based on how much lift is needed to restore proper lumbopelvic biomechanics. In certain cases, surgical intervention may be needed to either shorten or lengthen the limb. An important component to any surgical procedure to correct leg length discrepancies is physical therapy. Physical therapy helps to stretch muscles and maintain joint flexibility, which is essential in the healing process. For a functional leg length discrepancy no heel lift is required, but proper manual therapy techniques and specific therapeutic exercise is needed to treat and normalize pelvic and lower extremity compensations. The number of treatments needed to hold the pelvis in a symmetrical position is different for each patient based on their presentation and biomechanical dysfunctions in their lower back, pelvis, hip, knee, and foot/ankle. If you have pain in your lower back or lower extremity and possibly a length discrepancy; the two symptoms could be related. A good place to start would be a physical therapy evaluation to determine whether you have a leg length discrepancy and if it could be contributing to your lower back pain, hip pain, knee pain, or leg pain.
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The bone is lengthened by surgically applying an external fixation device to the leg. The external fixator, a scaffold-like frame, is connected to the bone with wires, pins, or both. A small crack is made in the bone and the frame creates tension when the patient or family member turns its dial. This is done several times each day. The lengthening process begins approximately five to 10 days after surgery. The bone may lengthen 1 millimeter per day, or approximately 1 inch per month. Lengthening may be slower in a bone that was previously injured. It may also be slower if the leg was operated on before. Bones in patients with potential blood vessel abnormalities, such as cigarette smokers, may also need to be lengthened more slowly. The external fixator is worn until the bone is strong enough to support the patient safely. This usually takes about three months for each inch. Factors such as age, health, smoking and participation in rehabilitation can affect the amount of time needed.