Some people have an ?apparent? LLD which may make the affected leg seem longer than the other leg. There are several factors that can contribute to this feeling. Most commonly, contractures or shortening of the muscles surrounding the hip joint and pelvis make the involved leg feel longer, even when both legs are really the same length. Additionally, contractures of the muscles around the lower back from spinal disorders (i.e. arthritis, spinal stenosis), curvatures of the spine from scoliosis, and deformities of the knee or ankle joint can make one leg seem longer or shorter. In the general public, some people have an ?apparent LLD? as long as one half inch but usually don?t notice it because the LLD occurs over time. A ?true? LLD is where one leg is actually longer than the other. Patients can have unequal leg lengths of 1/4? to 1/2? and never feel it too! You can also have combinations of ?True? and ?Apparent? LLDs. During total hip replacement surgery, the surgeon may ?lengthen? the involved leg by stretching the muscles and ligaments that were contracted, as well as by restoring the joint space that had become narrowed from the arthritis. This is usually a necessary part of the surgery because it also provides stability to the new hip joint. Your surgeon takes measurements of your leg lengths on x-ray prior to surgery. Your surgeon always aims for equal leg lengths if at all possible and measures the length of your legs before and during surgery in order to achieve this goal. Occasionally, surgeons may need to lengthen the operable leg to help improve stability and prevent dislocations as well improve the muscle function around the hip.
A patient?s legs may be different lengths for a number of reasons, including a broken leg bone may heal in a shorter position, particularly if the injury was severe. In children, broken bones may grow faster for a few years after they heal, resulting in one longer leg. If the break was near the growth center, slower growth may ensue. Children, especially infants, who have a bone infection during a growth spurt may have a greater discrepancy. Inflammation of joints, such as juvenile arthritis during growth, may cause unequal leg length. Compensation for spinal or pelvic scoliosis. Bone diseases such as Ollier disease, neurofibromatosis, or multiple hereditary exostoses. Congenital differences.
Many people walk around with LLD?s of up to 2 cm. and not even know it. However, discrepancies above 2 cm. becomes more noticeable, and a slight limp is present. But even up to 3 cm. a small lift compensates very well, and many patients are quite happy with this arrangement. Beyond 3 cm. however, the limp is quite pronounced, and medical care is often sought at that point. Walking with a short leg gait is not only unsightly, but increases energy expenditure during ambulation. It could also put more stress on the long leg, and causes functional scoliosis. Where the discrepancy is more severe, walking becomes grotesque or virtually impossible.
The only way to decipher between anatomical and functional leg length inequalities (you can have both) is by a physical measurement and series of biomechanical tests. It is actually a simple process and gets to the true cause of some runner?s chronic foot, knee, hip and back pain. After the muscles are tested and the legs are measured it may be necessary to get a special X-ray that measures both of your thighs (Femurs) and legs (Tibias). The X-ray is read by a medical radiologist who provides a report of the actual difference down to the micrometer leaving zero room for error. Once the difference in leg length is known, the solution becomes clear.
Non Surgical Treatment
Whether or not treatment should be pursued depends on the amount of discrepancy. In general, no treatment (other than a heel life, if desired) should be considered for discrepancies under two centimeters. If the discrepancy measures between two and five centimeters, one might consider a procedure to equalize leg length. Usually, this would involve closure of the growth plate on the long side, thereby allowing the short side to catch up; shortening the long leg; or possibly lengthening the short leg.
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Lengthening is usually done by corticotomy and gradual distraction. This technique can result in lengthenings of 25% or more, but typically lengthening of 15%, or about 6 cm, is recommended. The limits of lengthening depend on patient tolerance, bony consolidation, maintenance of range of motion, and stability of the joints above and below the lengthened limb. Numerous fixation devices are available, such as the ring fixator with fine wires, monolateral fixator with half pins, or a hybrid frame. The choice of fixation device depends on the desired goal. A monolateral device is easier to apply and better tolerated by the patient. The disadvantages of monolateral fixation devices include the limitation of the degree of angular correction that can concurrently be obtained; the cantilever effect on the pins, which may result in angular deformity, especially when lengthening the femur in large patients; and the difficulty in making adjustments without placing new pins. Monolateral fixators appear to have a similar success rate as circular fixators, especially with more modest lengthenings (20%).