Many children have one leg that is marginally longer than the other. In most cases, the difference is present at birth but may be too slight to be detected. More significant leg length differences (more than 2 cm) often become obvious as your child grows and begins to crawl and walk. We don?t always know what causes these discrepancies. A significant discrepancy can lead to more serious problems including arthritis and difficulty walking. However, with appropriate treatment, most children with this condition can participate in regular activities. Treatment options include heel lifts and, in more severe cases, surgery to either lengthen or shorten a leg.
The causes of LLD may be divided into those that shorten a limb versus those that lengthen a limb, or they may be classified as affecting the length versus the rate of growth in a limb. For example, a fracture that heals poorly may shorten a leg slightly, but does not affect its growth rate. Radiation, on the other hand, can affect a leg's long-term ability to expand, but does not acutely affect its length. Causes that shorten the leg are more common than those that lengthen it and include congenital growth deficiencies (seen in hemiatrophy and skeletal dysplasias ), infections that infiltrate the epiphysis (e.g. osteomyelitis ), tumors, fractures that occur through the growth plate or have overriding ends, Legg-Calve-Perthes disease, slipped capital femoral epiphysis (SCFE), and radiation. Lengthening can result from unique conditions, such as hemihypertrophy , in which one or more structures on one side of the body become larger than the other side, vascular malformations or tumors (such as hemangioma ), which cause blood flow on one side to exceed that of the other, Wilm's tumor (of the kidney), septic arthritis, healed fractures, or orthopaedic surgery. Leg length discrepancy may arise from a problem in almost any portion of the femur or tibia. For example, fractures can occur at virtually all levels of the two bones. Fractures or other problems of the fibula do not lead to LLD, as long as the more central, weight-bearing tibia is unaffected. Because many cases of LLD are due to decreased rate of growth, the femoral or tibial epiphyses are commonly affected regions.
The patient/athlete may present with an altered gait (such as limping) and/or scoliosis and/or low back pain. Lower extremity disorders are possibly associated with LLD, some of these are increased hip pain and degeneration (especially involving the long leg). Increased risk of: knee injury, ITB syndrome, pronation and plantar fascitis, asymmetrical strength in lower extremity. Increased disc or vertebral degeneration. Symptoms vary between patients, some patients may complain of just headaches.
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.
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Differences of an inch-and-a-half to two inches may require epiphysiodesis (adjusting the growth of the longer side) or acute shortening of the other side. Differences greater than 2.5 inches usually require a lengthening procedure. The short bone is cut and an external device is applied. Gradual lengthening is done over months to allow the muscles and nerves accommodate the new length.