If one of your child's legs is longer than the other leg, he or she has a common problem known as leg length discrepancy. A typical difference in leg length can be anywhere from one centimeter, which usually does not cause any problems, to more than six centimeters. The greater the discrepancy, the more your child must compensate his or her normal posture and walking pattern in day to day life, which can lead to a variety of symptoms, such as functional scoliosis, hip, knee and ankle problems.Causes
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.Symptoms
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.Diagnosis
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
Treatments for limb-length discrepancies and differences vary, depending on the cause and severity of the condition. At Gillette, our orthopedic surgeons are experts in typical and atypical growth and development. Our expertise lets us plan treatments that offer a lifetime of benefits. Treatments might include monitoring growth and development, providing noninvasive treatments or therapy, and providing a combination of orthopedic surgical procedures. To date, alternative treatments (such as chiropractic care or physical therapy) have not measurably altered the progression of or improved limb-length conditions. However, children often have physical or occupational therapy to address related conditions, such as muscle weakness or inflexibility, or to speed recovery following a surgical procedure. In cases where surgical treatment isn?t necessary, our orthopedists may monitor patients and plan noninvasive treatments, such as, occupational therapy, orthoses (braces) and shoe inserts, physical therapy, prostheses (artificial limbs).how do you grow?Surgical Treatment
Surgery to shorten the longer leg. This is less involved than lengthening the shorter leg. Shortening may be done in one of two ways. Closing the growth plate of the long leg 2-3 years before growth ends (around age 11-13), letting the short leg catch up. This procedure is called an epiphysiodesis. Taking some bone from the longer leg once growth is complete to even out leg lengths. Surgery to lengthen the shorter leg. This surgery is more involved than surgery to shorten a leg. During this surgery, cuts are made in the leg bone. An external metal frame and bar are attached to the leg bone. This frame and bar slowly pull on the leg bone, lengthening it. The frame and bar must be worn constantly for months to years. When the frame and bar are removed, a leg cast is required for several months. This surgery requires careful and continued follow-up with the surgeon to be sure that healing is going well.