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.
Leg length discrepancies can be caused by: hip and knee replacements, lower limb injuries, bone diseases, neuromuscular issues and congenital problems. Although discrepancies of 2 cm or less are most common, discrepancies can be greater than 6 cm. People who have LLD tend to make up for the difference by over bending their longer leg or standing on the toes of their shorter leg. This compensation leads to an inefficient, up and down gait, which is quite tiring and over time can result in posture problems as well as pain in the back, hips, knees and ankles.
The effects of a short leg depend upon the individual and the extent of discrepancy. The most common manifestation if a lateral deviation of the lumbar spine toward the short side with compensatory curves up the spine that can extend into the neck and even impacts the TMJ. Studies have shown that anterior and posterior curve abnormalities also can result.
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
Whether or not treatment should be pursued depends on the amount of discrepancy. In general, no treatment (other than a heel life, if desired) should be considered for discrepancies under two centimeters. If the discrepancy measures between two and five centimeters, one might consider a procedure to equalize leg length. Usually, this would involve closure of the growth plate on the long side, thereby allowing the short side to catch up; shortening the long leg; or possibly lengthening the short leg.
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Leg shortening is employed when LLD is severe and when a patient has already reached skeletal maturity. The actual surgery is called an osteotomy , which entails the removal of a small section of bone in the tibia (shinbone) and sometimes the fibula as well, resulting in the loss of around an inch in total height. Leg lengthening is a difficult third option that has traditionally had a high complication rate. Recently, results have improved somewhat with the emergence of a technique known as callotasis , in which only the outer portion of the bone (the cortex ) is cut, (i.e. a corticotomy ). This allows the bone to be more easily lengthened by an external fixation device that is attached to either side of the cut bone with pins through the skin. The ?ex-fix,' as it is sometimes called, is gradually adjusted by an orthopaedic surgeon, and healing can occur at the same time that the leg is being distracted , or lengthened over time. Unlike epiphysiodesis, leg lengthening procedures can be performed at almost any skeletal or chronological age.