Leg length discrepancy is the difference in lengths of an individual?s legs. This difference may be anatomical or may be due to scoliosis, trauma/injury, arthritis, overpronation (collapse) of one foot, bowing of one leg or unequal bowing, surgery (hip or knee replacement), pelvic tilting or ageing. The difference can also be functional caused by differing forces of the soft tissues, such as weakness in muscle tissue on one side, or a weakness/tightness in joint tissue. A difference in leg lengths also results when running on indoor banked tracks, beaches and banked streets and side walks (for drainage). Many people have a measurable difference in their leg lengths which is compensated for by their bodies. As we age this compensation does not work as well. An x-ray and physical measurements will define the discrepancy and the adjustment needed.
LLDs are very common. Sometimes the cause isn?t known. But the known causes of LLD in children include, injury or infection that slows growth of one leg bone. Injury to the growth plate (a soft part of a long bone that allows the bone to grow). Growth plate injury can slow bone growth in that leg. Fracture to a leg bone that causes overgrowth of the bone as it heals. A congenital (present at birth) problem (one whole side of the child?s body may be larger than the other side). Conditions that affect muscles and nerves, such as polio.
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.
A systematic and well organized approach should be used in the diagnosis of LLD to ensure all relevant factors are considered and no clues are overlooked which could explain the difference. To determine the asymmetry a patient should be evaluated whilst standing and walking. During the process special care should be used to note the extent of pelvic shift from side to side and deviation along the plane of the front or leading leg as well as the traverse deviation of the back leg and abnormal curvature of the spine. Dynamic gait analysis should be conducted during waling where observation of movement on the sagittal, frontal and transverse planes should be noted. Also observe head, neck and shoulder movements for any tilting.
Non Surgical Treatment
After the leg length discrepancy has been identified it can be categorized in as structural or functional and appropriate remedial action can be instigated. This may involve heel lifters or orthotics being used to level up the difference. The treatment of LLD depends on the symptoms being experienced. Where the body is naturally compensating for the LLD (and the patient is in no discomfort), further rectifying action may cause adverse effects to the biomechanical mechanism of the body causing further injury. In cases of functional asymmetry regular orthotics can be used to correct the geometry of the foot and ground contact. In structural asymmetry cases heel lifts may be used to compensate for the anatomic discrepancy.
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.