Leg length difference (LLD) is primarily when the hips are not level, causing a limp from side to side. Most practitioners divide LLD into anatomical or functional. Anatomical is when there is a true difference in the length of the tibia/fibula or the femur bone, or both. While functional LLD are either the shortening or lengthening of a limb, secondary to joint contracture or muscle imbalances.
The causes of LLD are many, including a previous injury, bone infection, bone diseases (dysplasias), inflammation (arthritis) and neurologic conditions. Previously broken bones may cause LLD by healing in a shortened position, especially if the bone was broken in many pieces (comminuted) or if skin and muscle tissue around the bone were severely injured and exposed (open fracture). Broken bones in children sometimes grow faster for several years after healing, causing the injured bone to become longer. Also, a break in a child?s bone through a growth center (located near the ends of the bone) may cause slower growth, resulting in a shorter extremity. Bone infections that occur in children while they are growing may cause a significant LLD, especially during infancy. Bone diseases may cause LLD, as well; examples are neurofibromatosis, multiple hereditary exostoses and Ollier disease. Inflammation of joints during growth may cause unequal extremity length. One example is juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis, the joint degeneration that occurs in adults, very rarely causes a significant LLD.
Faulty feet and ankle structure profoundly affect leg length and pelvic positioning. The most common asymmetrical foot position is the pronated foot. Sensory receptors embedded on the bottom of the foot alert the brain to the slightest weight shift. Since the brain is always trying to maintain pelvic balance, when presented with a long left leg, it attempts to adapt to the altered weight shift by dropping the left medial arch (shortening the long leg) and supinating the right arch to lengthen the short leg.1 Left unchecked, excessive foot pronation will internally rotate the left lower extremity, causing excessive strain to the lateral meniscus and medial collateral knee ligaments. Conversely, excessive supination tends to externally rotate the leg and thigh, creating opposite knee, hip and pelvic distortions.
A doctor will generally take a detailed medical history of both the patient and family, including asking about recent injuries or illnesses. He or she will carefully examine the patient, observing how he or she moves and stands. If necessary, an orthopedic surgeon will order X-ray, bone age determinations and computed tomography (CT) scans or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
Non Surgical Treatment
Treatment depends on the amount and cause of the leg length discrepancy as well as the age of your child. Typically, if the difference is less than 2 cm we don?t recommend immediate treatment. We may recommend that your child wear a heel lift in one shoe to make walking and running more comfortable. If the leg length discrepancy is more significant, your doctor may recommend surgery to shorten or lengthen a leg. The procedure used most often to shorten a leg is called epiphysiodesis.
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Epiphysiodesis is a surgical option designed to slow down the growth of the long leg over a period of months to years. It is only used in growing children. The operation involves a general anaesthetic. Small incisions are made around the knee near the growth plates of the thigh bone and the shin bone. The growth plates are prevented from growing by the use of small screws and plates (?8 - plates?). The screws are buried beneath the skin and are not visible. Stitches are buried beneath the skin and do not need to be removed. The child is normally in hospital for 2-3 days. The child can weight bear immediately and return back to normal activity within a few weeks. Long term follow up is required to monitor the effects of the surgery. The timing of the surgery is based on the amount of growth predicted for the child. Therefore, this procedure can under- and over-correct the difference in leg length. Occasionally the screws have to be removed to allow growth to continue. This procedure can be used on one half of the growth plate to correct deformity in a limb e.g. knock-knees or bow legs. This is known as hemiepiphysiodesis.