Have you ever been told or noticed that one of your legs is a bit longer than the other? Do you have incidences of lower back pain? These two things could be related. Most individuals have a small difference in their leg lengths. For some, the discrepancy is small and negligible and will not be a contributor to lower back pain. This is usually the case for people if their leg length is less than 5 millimeters. However, a difference of leg lengths greater than 5 millimeters (1/4 inch) can contribute to lower back pain. If you have a leg length difference of greater than 9 mm, then you have a 6X greater likelihood of having an episode of lower back pain.
Sometimes the cause of LLD is unknown, yet the pattern or combination of conditions is consistent with a certain abnormality. Examples include underdevelopment of the inner or outer side of the leg (hemimelias) or (partial) inhibition of growth of one side of the body of unknown cause (hemihypertrophy). These conditions are present at birth, but the limb length difference may be too small to be detected. As the child grows, the LLD increases and becomes more noticeable. In hemimelia, one of the two bones between the knee and the ankle (tibia or fibula) is abnormally short. There also may be associated foot or knee abnormalities. Hemihypertrophy or hemiatrophy are rare conditions in which there is a difference in length of both the arm and leg on only one side of the body. There may also be a difference between the two sides of the face. Sometimes no cause can be found. This type of limb length is called idiopathic. While there is a cause, it cannot be determined using currect diagnostic methods.
LLD do not have any pain or discomfort directly associated with the difference of one leg over the other leg. However, LLD will place stress on joints throughout the skeletal structure of the body and create discomfort as a byproduct of the LLD. Just as it is normal for your feet to vary slightly in size, a mild difference in leg length is normal, too. A more pronounced LLD, however, can create abnormalities when walking or running and adversely affect healthy balance and posture. Symptoms include a slight limp. Walking can even become stressful, requiring more effort and energy. Sometimes knee pain, hip pain and lower back pain develop. Foot mechanics are also affected causing a variety of complications in the foot, not the least, over pronating, metatarsalgia, bunions, hammer toes, instep pain, posterior tibial tendonitis, and many more.
Infants, children or adolescents suspected of having a limb-length condition should receive an evaluation at the first sign of difficulty in using their arms or legs. In many cases, signs are subtle and only noticeable in certain situations, such as when buying clothing or playing sports. Proper initial assessments by qualified pediatric orthopedic providers can reduce the likelihood of long-term complications and increase the likelihood that less invasive management will be effective. In most cases, very mild limb length discrepancies require no formal treatment at all.
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.
Large leg length inequalities can be treated by staged lengthenings or by simultaneous ipsilateral femoral and tibial lengthenings. Additionally, lengthenings can be combined with appropriately timed epiphysiodesis in an effort to produce leg length equality. Staged lengthenings are often used for congenital deficiencies such as fibular hemimelia, in which 15 cm or more may be needed to produce leg length equality. We typically plan for the final lengthening to be completed by age 13 or 14 years, and allow at least 3 years between lengthenings. Lengthening of both the tibia and femur simultaneously requires aggressive therapy and treatment of soft tissue contractures. Curran et al reported the need for surgical release of soft tissue contractures in 3 of 8 patients treated with simultaneous ipsilateral femoral and tibial lengthenings. Lengthening over an IM nail can be done in an effort to decrease the amount of time the fixator needs to be worn and to prevent angular malalignment. This technique requires that the patient be skeletally mature and it carries a higher risk of osteomyelitis (up to 15%). Additionally, if premature consolidation occurs, a repeat corticotomy is more difficult.