There are generally two kinds of leg length discrepancies. Structural discrepancy occurs when either the thigh (femur) or shin (tibia) bone in one leg is actually shorter than the corresponding bone in the other leg. Functional discrepancy occurs when the leg lengths are equal, but symmetry is altered somewhere above the leg, which in turn disrupts the symmetry of the legs. For example, developmental dislocation of the hip (DDH) can cause a functional discrepancy. In DDH, the top of the leg bone (femur) that is not properly positioned in the hip socket may hang lower than the femur on the other side, giving the appearance and symptoms of a 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.
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.
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
For minor limb length discrepancy in patients with no deformity, treatment may not be necessary. Because the risks may outweigh the benefits, surgical treatment to equalize leg lengths is usually not recommended if the difference is less than 1 inch. For these small differences, the physician may recommend a shoe lift. A lift fitted to the shoe can often improve walking and running, as well as relieve any back pain that may be caused by the limb length discrepancy. Shoe lifts are inexpensive and can be removed if they are not effective.
functional leg length discrepancy treatment
Surgical lengthening of the shorter extremity (upper or lower) is another treatment option. The bone is lengthened by surgically applying an external fixator to the extremity in the operating room. The external fixator, a scaffold-like frame, is connected to the bone with wires, pins or both. A small crack is made in the bone and tension is created by the frame when it is "distracted" by the patient or family member who turns an affixed dial several times daily. The lengthening process begins approximately five to ten days after surgery. The bone may lengthen one millimeter per day, or approximately one inch per month. Lengthening may be slower in adults overall and in a bone that has been previously injured or undergone prior surgery. Bones in patients with potential blood vessel abnormalities (i.e., cigarette smokers) may also lengthen more slowly. The external fixator is worn until the bone is strong enough to support the patient safely, approximately three months per inch of lengthening. This may vary, however, due to factors such as age, health, smoking, participation in rehabilitation, etc. Risks of this procedure include infection at the site of wires and pins, stiffness of the adjacent joints and slight over or under correction of the bone?s length. Lengthening requires regular follow up visits to the physician?s office, meticulous hygiene of the pins and wires, diligent adjustment of the frame several times daily and rehabilitation as prescribed by your physician.