The two major categorizations of LLD are structural and functional. A third more minor category is environmental. In structural LLD there is an actual anatomical difference in the bones of the lower extremities where one side becomes shorter than the other. This type of LLD may be genetic, where the person is born in this way. In other cases it may be due to injury or infection through the growth phases of early childhood or adolescence. Some spinal abnormalities like scoliosis can also cause this condition. Functional LLD is where the bones are not the cause of difference but a muscle or pelvic condition has the effect of weakening the leg on one side. Conditions that can cause this are muscle inflexibility, adduction contractures and pelvic obliquity (amongst others). The third less severe category of environmental LLD is caused by discrepancies in the surface that the feet and legs are resting or walking on. Banked, uneven or curved surfaces can all cause environmental LLD. In LLD the asymmetric nature of the legs in relation to hips and back caused the centre of gravity to shift from its natural position. This then results in the body attempting to compensate by either tilting the pelvic areas towards the shorter side, increased knee flexing on the longer side, flexion of the ankle plantar and foot supination towards the shorter side.
From an anatomical stand point, the LLD could have been from hereditary, broken bones, diseases and joint replacements. Functional LLD can be from over pronating, knee deformities, tight calves and hamstrings, weak IT band, curvature in the spine and many other such muscular/skeletal issues.
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
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.
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The type of surgery depends on the type of problem. Outpatient procedures may be used to alter the growth of the limb. This is often done through small incisions. If an outpatient procedure is done, your child can continue with most regular activities. Other times, surgery may be very involved and require the use of an external device that is attached to the limb with pins and wires. This device may be left on for months to correct the deformity or lengthen the leg. If this type of surgery is required, your child will be making weekly visits to Cincinnati Children's.