There are many different conditions in childhood and adult life that can lead to deformity of a limb or difference in leg lengths. Treatment for these conditions depends on the condition being treated, the age of the child and the amount of deformity or shortening. Generally, only a final difference of leg length of 2cm or more requires surgical treatment. An outline of treatment options is given below.
Some causes of leg length discrepancy (other than anatomical). Dysfunction of the hip joint itself leading to compensatory alterations by the joint and muscles that impact on the joint. Muscle mass itself, i.e., the vastus lateralis muscle, pushes the iliotibial band laterally, causing femoral compensations to maintain a line of progression during the gait cycle. This is often misdiagnosed as I-T band syndrome and subsequently treated incorrectly. The internal rotators of the lower limb are being chronically short or in a state of contracture. According to Cunningham's Manual of Practical Anatomy these are muscles whose insertion is lateral to the long axis of the femur. The external rotators of the hip joint are evidenced in the hip rotation test. The iliosacral joint displays joint fixations on the superior or inferior transverse, or the sagittal axes. This may result from many causes including joint, muscle, osseous or compensatory considerations. Short hamstring muscles, i.e., the long head of the biceps femoris muscle. In the closed kinetic chain an inability of the fibula to drop inferior will result in sacrotuberous ligament loading failure. The sacroiliac joint dysfunctions along its right or left oblique axis. Failure or incorrect loading of the Back Force Transmission System (the longitudinal-muscle-tendon-fascia sling and the oblique dorsal muscle-fascia-tendon sling). See the proceedings of the first and second Interdisciplinary World Congress on Low Back Pain. Sacral dysfunction (nutation or counternutation) on the respiratory axis. When we consider the above mentioned, and other causes, it should be obvious that unless we look at all of the causes of leg length discrepancy/asymmetry then we will most assuredly reach a diagnosis based on historical dogma or ritual rather than applying the rules of current differential diagnosis.
Children whose limbs vary in length often experience difficulty using their arms or legs. They might have difficulty walking or using both arms to engage in everyday activities.
A qualified musculoskeletal expert will first take a medical history and conduct a physical exam. Other tests may include X-rays, MRI, or CT scan to diagnose the root cause.
Non Surgical Treatment
For minor limb length discrepancy in patients with no deformity, treatment may not be necessary. Because the risks may outweigh the benefits, surgical treatment to equalize leg lengths is usually not recommended if the difference is less than 1 inch. For these small differences, the physician may recommend a shoe lift. A lift fitted to the shoe can often improve walking and running, as well as relieve any back pain that may be caused by the limb length discrepancy. Shoe lifts are inexpensive and can be removed if they are not effective.
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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.