True Vs Apparent Leg Length Discrepancy

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Overview

People with leg length discrepancy, when one leg is longer than the other, usually have a waddling-type gait where the hips seem to move up and down during walking as the body tries to compensate for the inequality. There are two types of leg length discrepancy. The first type of leg length discrepancy involves a structural defect, where one bone is longer or shorter than the corresponding bone of the other limb. This can occur within the femur (upper leg bone) or the tibia and fibular (lower leg bones). Functional leg length discrepancy results from altered mechanics due to a malalignment in the spine or lower extremity.Leg Length Discrepancy

Causes

Leg discrepancy can develop from a medical issue in any portion of the femur or tibia. One leg may lengthen, but leg shortening is much more common. Factors that can cause leg length discrepancy include inherited growth deficiencies. Infections. A bone infection can cause delayed growth in the affected limb. Injury. If your child breaks a leg, it may be shorter once it heals. This is most likely to happen if the fracture or break was complicated, an open fracture, or an injury that affected the growth plate near the end of the bone. Alternatively, a break can cause bones to grow faster after healing, making a leg longer. Tumors. Legg-Calve-Perthes disease. This is a condition that affects the ball (femoral head) of the hip joint. The femoral head may be friable and damage easily, sometimes leading to shortening of the thigh bone. Hemihypertrophy. In children with this condition, one side of the body grows more quickly than the other. Vascular malformations. These are abnormal clusters of veins and arteries that can form close to the bone and stimulate growth. Juvenile arthritis. Inflammation from arthritis can stimulate growth in the affected leg and cause discrepancy.

Symptoms

As patients develop LLD, they will naturally and even unknowingly attempt to compensate for the difference between their two legs by either bending the longer leg excessively or standing on the toes of the short leg. When walking, they are forced to step down on one side and thrust upwards on the other side, which leads to a gait pattern with an abnormal up and down motion. For many patients, especially adolescents, the appearance of their gait may be more personally troublesome than any symptoms that arise or any true functional deficiency. Over time, standing on one's toes can create a contracture at the ankle, in which the calf muscle becomes abnormally contracted, a condition that can help an LLD patient with walking, but may later require surgical repair. If substantial enough, LLD left untreated can contribute to other serious orthopaedic problems, such as degenerative arthritis, scoliosis, or lower back pain. However, with proper treatment, children with leg length discrepancy generally do quite well, without lingering functional or cosmetic deficiencies.

Diagnosis

Limb length discrepancy can be measured by a physician during a physical examination and through X-rays. Usually, the physician measures the level of the hips when the child is standing barefoot. A series of measured wooden blocks may be placed under the short leg until the hips are level. If the physician believes a more precise measurement is needed, he or she may use X-rays. In growing children, a physician may repeat the physical examination and X-rays every six months to a year to see if the limb length discrepancy has increased or remained unchanged. A limb length discrepancy may be detected on a screening examination for curvature of the spine (scoliosis). But limb length discrepancy does not cause scoliosis.

Non Surgical Treatment

In an adult, we find that we can add a non compressive silicone heel lift to a shoe in increments of 3-4 mm maximum per week. Were we to give a patient with a 20 mm short leg, 20 mm of lift all at once, their entire body would rebel. The various compensations that the body has made, such as curvatures and shortening of muscles on the convex side of the curve, would make such a dramatic change not just noticeable, but painful. When we get close to balancing a patient by lifting a leg with heel inserts, then we perform another gait analysis and follow up xray. At that point, we can typically write them a final prescription to have their shoe modified. A heel lift is typically fine up to 7 mm. When it gets higher than that, the entire shoe must be modified. There are two reasons for this. The back of the shoe is generally too short to accommodate more than 7-8 mm inserted inside the shoes and a heel lift greater than 7 mm will lead to Achilles tendon shortening, which then creates it?s own panoply of problems.

LLD Shoe Inserts

Surgical Treatment

For discrepancies over five centimeters, more aggressive surgical procedures-specifically leg lengthening procedures-are typically required. The specifics of this operative procedure are beyond the scope of this informational page, but your child's physician will be able to discuss the details in reference to your child's specific problems when considered appropriate.

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