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.
Leg length discrepancies can be caused by poor alignment of the pelvis or simply because one leg is structurally longer than the other. Regardless of the reason, your body wants to be symmetrical and will do its best to compensate for the length difference. The greater the leg length difference, the earlier the symptoms will present themselves to the patient. Specific diagnoses that coincide with leg length discrepancy include: scoliosis, lumbar herniated discs, sacroiliitis, pelvic obiliquity, greater trochanteric bursitis, hip arthritis, piriformis syndrome, patellofemoral syndrome and foot pronation. Other potential causes could be due to an injury (such as a fracture), bone disease, bone tumors, congenital problems (present at birth) or from a neuromuscular problem.
The effects of limb length discrepancy vary from patient to patient, depending on the cause and size of the difference. Differences of 3 1/2 percent to 4 percent of the total length of the leg (about 4 cm or 1 2/3 inches in an average adult) may cause noticeable abnormalities when walking. These differences may require the patient to exert more effort to walk. There is controversy about the effect of limb length discrepancy on back pain. Some studies show that people with a limb length discrepancy have a greater incidence of low back pain and an increased susceptibility to injuries. Other studies do not support this finding.
A qualified musculoskeletal expert will first take a medical history and conduct a physical exam. Other tests may include X-rays, MRI, or CT scan to diagnose the root cause.
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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Shortening techniques can be used after skeletal maturity to achieve leg length equality. Shortening can be done in the proximal femur using a blade plate or hip screw, in the mid-diaphysis of the femur using a closed intramedullary (IM) technique, or in the tibia. Shortening is an accurate technique and involves a much shorter convalescence than lengthening techniques. Quadriceps weakness may occur with femoral shortenings, especially if a mid-diaphyseal shortening of greater than 10% is done. If the femoral shortening is done proximally, no significant weakness should result. Tibial shortening can be done, but there may be a residual bulkiness to the leg, and risks of nonunion and compartment syndrome are higher. If a tibial shortening is done, shortening over an IM nail and prophylactic compartment release are recommended. We limit the use of shortenings to 4 to 5 cm leg length inequality in patients who are skeletally mature.