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Functional Leg Length Discrepancy Causes


Leg length discrepancy (LLD) affects about 70% of the general population, and can be either structural - when the difference occurs in bone structures - or functional, because of mechanical changes at the lower limbs. The discrepancy can be also classified by its magnitude into mild, intermediate, or severe. Mild LLD has been particularly associated with stress fracture, low back pain and osteoarthritis, and when the discrepancy occurs in subjects whose mechanical loads are increased by their professional, daily or recreational activities, these orthopaedic changes may appear early and severely. The aim of this study was to analyze and compare ground reaction force (GRF) during gait in runners with and without mild LLD. Results showed that subjects with mild LLD of 0.5 to 2.0 cm presented higher values of minimum vertical GRF (0.57 ? 0.07 BW) at the shorter limb compared to the longer limb (0.56 ? 0.08 BW) Therefore, subjects with mild LLD adopt compensatory mechanisms that cause additional overloads to the musculoskeletal system in order to promote a symmetrical gait pattern as showed by the values of absolute symmetric index of vertical and horizontal GRF variables.Leg Length Discrepancy


There are many causes of leg length discrepancy. Some include, A broken leg bone may lead to a leg length discrepancy if it heals in a shortened position. This is more likely if the bone was broken in many pieces. It also is more likely if skin and muscle tissue around the bone were severely injured and exposed, as in an open fracture. Broken bones in children sometimes grow faster for several years after healing, causing the injured bone to become longer. A break in a child's bone through the growth center near the end of the bone may cause slower growth, resulting in a shorter leg. Bone infections that occur in children while they are growing may cause a significant leg length discrepancy. This is especially true if the infection happens in infancy. Inflammation of joints during growth may cause unequal leg length. One example is juvenile arthritis. Bone diseases may cause leg length discrepancy, as well. Examples are, Neurofibromatosis, Multiple hereditary exostoses, Ollier disease. Other causes include inflammation (arthritis) and neurologic conditions. Sometimes the cause of leg length discrepancy is unknown, particularly in cases involving underdevelopment of the inner or outer side of the leg, or partial overgrowth of one side of the body. These conditions are usually present at birth, but the leg length difference may be too small to be detected. As the child grows, the leg length discrepancy increases and becomes more noticeable. In underdevelopment, one of the two bones between the knee and the ankle is abnormally short. There also may be related foot or knee problems. Hemihypertrophy (one side too big) or hemiatrophy (one side too small) are rare leg length discrepancy conditions. In these conditions, the arm and leg on one side of the body are either longer or shorter than the arm and leg on the other side of the body. There may also be a difference between the two sides of the face. Sometimes no cause can be found. This is known as an "idiopathic" difference.


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.


The most accurate method to identify leg (limb) length inequality (discrepancy) is through radiography. It?s also the best way to differentiate an anatomical from a functional limb length inequality. Radiography, A single exposure of the standing subject, imaging the entire lower extremity. Limitations are an inherent inaccuracy in patients with hip or knee flexion contracture and the technique is subject to a magnification error. Computed Tomography (CT-scan), It has no greater accuracy compared to the standard radiography. The increased cost for CT-scan may not be justified, unless a contracture of the knee or hip has been identified or radiation exposure must be minimized. However, radiography has to be performed by a specialist, takes more time and is costly. It should only be used when accuracy is critical. Therefore two general clinical methods were developed for assessing LLI. Direct methods involve measuring limb length with a tape measure between 2 defined points, in stand. Two common points are the anterior iliac spine and the medial malleolus or the anterior inferior iliac spine and lateral malleolus. Be careful, however, because there is a great deal of criticism and debate surrounds the accuracy of tape measure methods. If you choose for this method, keep following topics and possible errors in mind. Always use the mean of at least 2 or 3 measures. If possible, compare measures between 2 or more clinicians. Iliac asymmetries may mask or accentuate a limb length inequality. Unilateral deviations in the long axis of the lower limb (eg. Genu varum,?) may mask or accentuate a limb length inequality. Asymmetrical position of the umbilicus. Joint contractures. Indirect methods. Palpation of bony landmarks, most commonly the iliac crests or anterior iliac spines, in stand. These methods consist in detecting if bony landmarks are at (horizontal) level or if limb length inequality is present. Palpation and visual estimation of the iliac crest (or SIAS) in combination with the use of blocks or book pages of known thickness under the shorter limb to adjust the level of the iliac crests (or SIAS) appears to be the best (most accurate and precise) clinical method to asses limb inequality. You should keep in mind that asymmetric pelvic rotations in planes other than the frontal plane may be associated with limb length inequality. A review of the literature suggest, therefore, that the greater trochanter major and as many pelvic landmarks should be palpated and compared (left trochanter with right trochanter) when the block correction method is used.

Non Surgical Treatment

Treatments for limb-length discrepancies and differences vary, depending on the cause and severity of the condition. At Gillette, our orthopedic surgeons are experts in typical and atypical growth and development. Our expertise lets us plan treatments that offer a lifetime of benefits. Treatments might include monitoring growth and development, providing noninvasive treatments or therapy, and providing a combination of orthopedic surgical procedures. To date, alternative treatments (such as chiropractic care or physical therapy) have not measurably altered the progression of or improved limb-length conditions. However, children often have physical or occupational therapy to address related conditions, such as muscle weakness or inflexibility, or to speed recovery following a surgical procedure. In cases where surgical treatment isn?t necessary, our orthopedists may monitor patients and plan noninvasive treatments, such as, occupational therapy, orthoses (braces) and shoe inserts, physical therapy, prostheses (artificial limbs).

Leg Length

Surgical Treatment

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.