Some people have an ?apparent? LLD which may make the affected leg seem longer than the other leg. There are several factors that can contribute to this feeling. Most commonly, contractures or shortening of the muscles surrounding the hip joint and pelvis make the involved leg feel longer, even when both legs are really the same length. Additionally, contractures of the muscles around the lower back from spinal disorders (i.e. arthritis, spinal stenosis), curvatures of the spine from scoliosis, and deformities of the knee or ankle joint can make one leg seem longer or shorter. In the general public, some people have an ?apparent LLD? as long as one half inch but usually don?t notice it because the LLD occurs over time. A ?true? LLD is where one leg is actually longer than the other. Patients can have unequal leg lengths of 1/4? to 1/2? and never feel it too! You can also have combinations of ?True? and ?Apparent? LLDs. During total hip replacement surgery, the surgeon may ?lengthen? the involved leg by stretching the muscles and ligaments that were contracted, as well as by restoring the joint space that had become narrowed from the arthritis. This is usually a necessary part of the surgery because it also provides stability to the new hip joint. Your surgeon takes measurements of your leg lengths on x-ray prior to surgery. Your surgeon always aims for equal leg lengths if at all possible and measures the length of your legs before and during surgery in order to achieve this goal. Occasionally, surgeons may need to lengthen the operable leg to help improve stability and prevent dislocations as well improve the muscle function around the hip.
Some limb-length differences are caused by actual anatomic differences from one side to the other (referred to as structural causes). The femur is longer (or shorter) or the cartilage between the femur and tibia is thicker (or thinner) on one side. There could be actual deformities in one femur or hip joint contributing to leg length differences from side to side. Even a small structural difference can amount to significant changes in the anatomy of the limb. A past history of leg fracture, developmental hip dysplasia, slipped capital femoral epiphysis (SCFE), short neck of the femur, or coxa vara can also lead to placement of the femoral head in the hip socket that is offset. The end-result can be a limb-length difference and early degenerative arthritis of the hip.
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.
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
The way in which we would treat a LLD would depend on whether we have an anatomical or functional difference. To determine which one is causing the LLD you will need to get your legs measured. This is the easiest way to determine if it is anatomical or functional. With a functional LLD we must first determine the cause and treat the cause. Should the cause be one that is not correctable then we may need to treat the LLD as if it were an anatomical or may have to treat the opposite leg to improve one's gait. As for the anatomical LLD, we may start off with a heel lift only in the shoe and follow up to see if we will need to put the lift full sole on the bottom of the shoe. This is determined by the affects that a heel lift in one shoe may have on that knee. Should the LLD be more than 1/4 inch we usually recommend starting between 1/8 inch to 1/4 inch less than the actual amount and let the body adjust to the change and then raise up to the measured amount later.
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.