Every person?s body is unique and will show different symptoms due to a short leg. Athletes are able to distinguish the negative effects of a leg length that is just 3 mm shorter then the other. A whole host of negative effects can occur to the body that can create chronic pain and may necessitate surgical interventions. The effect of a short leg can be seen almost everywhere in the body.
A number of causes may lead to leg length discrepancy in children. Differences in leg length frequently follow fractures in the lower extremities in children due to over or under stimulation of the growth plates in the broken leg. Leg length discrepancy may also be caused by a congenital abnormality associated with a condition called hemihypertrophy. Or it may result from neuromuscular diseases such as polio and cerebral palsy. Many times, no cause can be identified. A small leg length discrepancy of a quarter of an inch or less is quite common in the general population and of no clinical significance. Larger leg length discrepancies become more significant. The long-term consequences of a short leg may include knee pain, back pain, and abnormal gait or limp.
The effects of limb length discrepancy vary from patient to patient, depending on the cause and size of the difference. Differences of 3 1/2 percent to 4 percent of the total length of the leg (about 4 cm or 1 2/3 inches in an average adult) may cause noticeable abnormalities when walking. These differences may require the patient to exert more effort to walk. There is controversy about the effect of limb length discrepancy on back pain. Some studies show that people with a limb length discrepancy have a greater incidence of low back pain and an increased susceptibility to injuries. Other studies do not support this finding.
There are several orthopedic tests that are used, but they are rudimentary and have some degree of error. Even using a tape measure with specific anatomic landmarks has its errors. Most leg length differences can be seen with a well trained eye, but I always recommend what is called a scanagram, or a x-ray bone length study (see picture above). This test will give a precise measurement in millimeters of the length difference.
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.
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Your child will be given general anesthetic. We cut the bone and insert metal pins above and below the cut. A metal frame is attached to the pins to support the leg. Over weeks and months, the metal device is adjusted to gradually pull the bone apart to create space between the ends of the bones. New bone forms to fill in the space, extending the length of the bone. Once the lengthening process is completed and the bones have healed, your child will require one more short operation to remove the lengthening device. We will see your child regularly to monitor the leg and adjust the metal lengthening device. We may also refer your child to a physical therapist to ensure that he or she stays mobile and has full range of motion in the leg. Typically, it takes a month of healing for every centimeter that the leg is lengthened.