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.
Leg discrepancy can develop from a medical issue in any portion of the femur or tibia. One leg may lengthen, but leg shortening is much more common. Factors that can cause leg length discrepancy include inherited growth deficiencies. Infections. A bone infection can cause delayed growth in the affected limb. Injury. If your child breaks a leg, it may be shorter once it heals. This is most likely to happen if the fracture or break was complicated, an open fracture, or an injury that affected the growth plate near the end of the bone. Alternatively, a break can cause bones to grow faster after healing, making a leg longer. Tumors. Legg-Calve-Perthes disease. This is a condition that affects the ball (femoral head) of the hip joint. The femoral head may be friable and damage easily, sometimes leading to shortening of the thigh bone. Hemihypertrophy. In children with this condition, one side of the body grows more quickly than the other. Vascular malformations. These are abnormal clusters of veins and arteries that can form close to the bone and stimulate growth. Juvenile arthritis. Inflammation from arthritis can stimulate growth in the affected leg and cause discrepancy.
The most common symptom of all forms of LLD is chronic backache. In structural LLD the sufferer may also experience arthritis within the knee and hip are, flank pain, plantar fasciitis and metatarsalgia all on the side that is longer. Functional LLD sufferers will see similar conditions on the shorter side.
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
The key to treatment of LLD in a child is to predict what the discrepancy is at maturity. If it is predicted to be less than 2 cm., no treatment is needed. Limb length discrepancies of up to 2 or 2.5 cm. can be compensated very well with a lift in the shoe. Beyond 2.5 cm., it becomes increasingly difficult to compensate with a left in the insole. Building up the shoe becomes uncosmetic and cumbersome, and some other way of compensating for the discrepancy becomes necessary. The treatment of LLD is long-term treatment, and involves the physician and patient?s family working together as a team. The family needs to weigh the various options available. If leg lengthening is decided on, the family needs to understand the commitment necessary to see it through. The treatment takes 6 months to a year for completion, and complications can happen. But when it works, the results are gratifying.
Bone growth restriction (epiphysiodesis) The objective of this surgical procedure is to slow down growth in the longer leg. During surgery, doctors alter the growth plate of the bone in the longer leg by inserting a small plate or staples. This slows down growth, allowing the shorter leg to catch up over time. Your child may spend a night in the hospital after this procedure or go home the same day. Doctors may place a knee brace on the leg for a few days. It typically takes 2 to 3 months for the leg to heal completely. An alternative approach involves lengthening the shorter bone. We are more likely to recommend this approach if your child is on the short side of the height spectrum.