The two major categorizations of LLD are structural and functional. A third more minor category is environmental. In structural LLD there is an actual anatomical difference in the bones of the lower extremities where one side becomes shorter than the other. This type of LLD may be genetic, where the person is born in this way. In other cases it may be due to injury or infection through the growth phases of early childhood or adolescence. Some spinal abnormalities like scoliosis can also cause this condition. Functional LLD is where the bones are not the cause of difference but a muscle or pelvic condition has the effect of weakening the leg on one side. Conditions that can cause this are muscle inflexibility, adduction contractures and pelvic obliquity (amongst others). The third less severe category of environmental LLD is caused by discrepancies in the surface that the feet and legs are resting or walking on. Banked, uneven or curved surfaces can all cause environmental LLD. In LLD the asymmetric nature of the legs in relation to hips and back caused the centre of gravity to shift from its natural position. This then results in the body attempting to compensate by either tilting the pelvic areas towards the shorter side, increased knee flexing on the longer side, flexion of the ankle plantar and foot supination towards the shorter side.
Some children are born with absence or underdeveloped bones in the lower limbs e.g., congenital hemimelia. Others have a condition called hemihypertrophy that causes one side of the body to grow faster than the other. Sometimes, increased blood flow to one limb (as in a hemangioma or blood vessel tumor) stimulates growth to the limb. In other cases, injury or infection involving the epiphyseal plate (growth plate) of the femur or tibia inhibits or stops altogether the growth of the bone. Fractures healing in an overlapped position, even if the epiphyseal plate is not involved, can also cause limb length discrepancy. Neuromuscular problems like polio can also cause profound discrepancies, but thankfully, uncommon. Lastly, Wilms? tumor of the kidney in a child can cause hypertrophy of the lower limb on the same side. It is therefore important in a young child with hemihypertrophy to have an abdominal ultrasound exam done to rule out Wilms? tumor. It is important to distinguish true leg length discrepancy from apparent leg length discrepancy. Apparent discrepancy is due to an instability of the hip, that allows the proximal femur to migrate proximally, or due to an adduction or abduction contracture of the hip that causes pelvic obliquity, so that one hip is higher than the other. When the patient stands, it gives the impression of leg length discrepancy, when the problem is actually in the hip.
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.
On standing examination one iliac crest may be higher/lower than the other. However a physiotherapist, osteopath or chiropractor will examine the LLD in prone or supine position and measure it, confirming the diagnosis of structural (or functional) LLD. The LLD should be measured using bony fixed points. X-Ray should be taken in a standing position. The osteopath, physiotherapist or chiropractor will look at femoral head & acetabulum, knee joints, ankle joints.
Non Surgical Treatment
Heel lifts Raise the heel on the shorter leg. It is applied either to the heel of the custom orthotic or to the inside of the shoe under the insole at the heel. Generally if the discrepancy is greater than 3/8 of an inch, the modification is applied externally on the footwear. Custom made orthotics help to provide proper support and alignment to the foot, controlling conditions such as over pronation. Orthopedic Footwear, properly fitted, to which a lift might be applied inside or out.
how do you grow?
Surgery to shorten the longer leg. This is less involved than lengthening the shorter leg. Shortening may be done in one of two ways. Closing the growth plate of the long leg 2-3 years before growth ends (around age 11-13), letting the short leg catch up. This procedure is called an epiphysiodesis. Taking some bone from the longer leg once growth is complete to even out leg lengths. Surgery to lengthen the shorter leg. This surgery is more involved than surgery to shorten a leg. During this surgery, cuts are made in the leg bone. An external metal frame and bar are attached to the leg bone. This frame and bar slowly pull on the leg bone, lengthening it. The frame and bar must be worn constantly for months to years. When the frame and bar are removed, a leg cast is required for several months. This surgery requires careful and continued follow-up with the surgeon to be sure that healing is going well.