Have you noticed that your pants always fit a little weird or that you are always leaning to one leg when standing for awhile? If so, one of your legs may be longer than the other. This is known as a leg length discrepancy. There are two main reasons for a leg length discrepancy. One reason is that one of your leg bones (tibia or femur) is longer on one side. This is referred to as a true leg length discrepancy because the actual length of your bones is different. A second reason is that your pelvic bone may be rotated on one side making it appear that one leg is longer than the other. This is referred to as an apparent leg length discrepancy because the actual length of your leg bones is not different. In order to figure out if you have a true or apparent leg length discrepancy, your doctor may take an x-ray to measure the length of your leg bones or a simple measurement from your belly button to your ankle can help determine the reason. Over time, the leg length difference can cause stress on your low back, hips and knees, which may cause pain or discomfort.
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.
If your child has one leg that is longer than the other, you may notice that he or she bends one leg. Stands on the toes of the shorter leg. Limps. The shorter leg has to be pushed upward, leading to an exaggerated up and down motion during walking. Tires easily. It takes more energy to walk with a discrepancy.
Asymmetry is a clue that a LLD is present. The center of gravity will shift to the short limb side and patients will try to compensate, displaying indications such as pelvic tilt, lumbar scoliosis, knee flexion, or unilateral foot pronation. Asking simple questions such as, "Do you favor one leg over the other?" or, "Do you find it uncomfortable to stand?" may also provide some valuable information. Performing a gait analysis will yield some clues as to how the patient compensates during ambulation. Using plantar pressure plates can indicate load pressure differences between the feet. It is helpful if the gait analysis can be video-recorded and played back in slow motion to catch the subtle aspects of movement.
Non Surgical Treatment
Treatment for an LLD depends on the amount of difference and the cause, if known. The doctor will discuss treatment options carefully with you and your child before any decisions are made. It is important to note that treatment is planned with the child?s final height and leg lengths in mind, not the current leg lengths. Treatment is generally not needed if the child?s final LLD is predicted to be 2 centimeters or less at full height. However, the child should return to an orthopaedic doctor by age 10 for re-evaluation. Treatment is often recommended for LLDs predicted to be more than 2 centimeters at full height. If treatment is done, it usually doesn?t begin until the child starts walking. Possible treatment options include, A ?lift? in one shoe to level the child?s hips. This is often the only treatment needed for small discrepancies.
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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.