There are a few myths that seem to have become fact. One is that everyone has different length legs. True, it may not be exact to the fraction of inch (or millimeter), but from a “macro” perspective they should be pretty equal. Most people learn about a limb length difference when they get a pair of pants tailored. Either the tailor measures each leg and tells you about the discrepancy or, if you go to a bad tailor, they may measure one leg only and you notice the difference when you try the pants on.
Not every limb length difference is created equal. In my Houston, TX podiatry practice, I measure the limbs in two different ways. I take a measurement with my patient lying down. This measures the actual lengths of the bones, without any soft tissue involvement or input from such issues as scoliosis. This is known as the structural limb length. The second measurement is taken while standing and with input from all structures, called the functional limb length.
Pain and injury resulting from a limb length difference can present in a variety of ways. Most commonly, however, the pain is limited to one side. The location of the pain will differ. The pain can be experienced in the feet and ankles, knees, hips, or lower back. Because a difference in limb length will also affect the shoulders, symptoms can also be felt in the upper back and neck. No matter the location, the discomfort is an overuse of the muscles and soft tissue that are forced to work harder than usual. You see, when there is a limb length difference, the long limb will try and shorten itself by the foot pronating, while the short limb will try to make itself functionally longer by supinating. This causes an imbalance and the injury results.
Treating a limb length discrepancy is often simple as placing a lift under the short limb. This does not always completely resolve the issue. There are times where physical therapy is needed to rehabilitate the soft tissue. Other times, a custom orthotic may be needed to best control the abnormal motions.
Limb length issues are common and it never fails to surprise my patient when I inform them that they have the imbalance. If you have having any pain in your lower extremity, visit with your podiatrist to see just how quickly it can be resolved. We’re here to keep you going!