If one leg is shorter than the other, doctors refer to this issue as limb length discrepancy, leg length discrepancy or short leg syndrome. It can be caused by a number of conditions::
- Congenital causes, such as the position of the fetus in utero
- Birth injuries, including a dislocated hip during delivery
- Infections or injuries in the leg's growth plates during childhood
- Adult injuries such as lower leg fractures or dislocations (even if properly treated)
- Hip or knee surgery, causing the leg to shrink
- Poor posture, causing the pelvis to tilt so that one side is higher (that leg must then work as if it was shorter than the other)
Symptoms can affect the entire body – impacting everything from the feet to tooth position when chewing. People with a short leg usually compensate when they walk and stand, but this causes other problems. For instance, someone might lean towards the short leg, trying to have the foot touch the ground while standing. However, this places pressure on the spine and pelvis, leading to lower back and hip pain. Other symptoms may include:
- Knee pain in either leg
- Sciatica (inflammation of the nerves in the leg and lower back)
- Poor balance when walking and running
- Pain in the feet and ankles
- TMJ disorder
Compensation: Human bodies are great at adapting! The body will try to fix a problem – or compensate for it. The body tries to equalize the length of the legs in two ways:
- Leaning towards the short leg in order to extend it and make it longer
- Pronation: bending the shorter leg's foot down and out, trying to make it longer
These methods of compensation can help someone walk more easily, but they generate abnormal pressure on the lower back, hips, knees, ankles, and feet. This creates pain, particularly when someone is standing. At Novis, we have seen hundreds of patients who have spent thousands of dollars trying to find out why their backs, hips, and knees hurt. A simple measurement of leg length could save these patients money and time – and, most importantly, avoid pain!
People who suspect they have short leg syndrome can ask their doctor to measure their legs. Patients can also try two diagnostic methods at home. They aren't foolproof, but they can help.
- With your back to the wall, stand in your normal posture (do not try to stand up straighter than usual). Have another person position a tape measure on your belly button. Now have them measure each leg, from the navel to the bottom of each foot. Compare the measurements. If they are equal, you probably do not have a leg discrepancy of any significance. However, if you find a difference greater than 1/8 inch, you should test the accuracy of the measurements with diagnostic method #2.
If still think you may have short leg syndrome, try this:
- Insert a 1/4 inch foam pad in the heel of the shorter leg's shoe.
- Keep the pad in place for at least two days, unless it causes increased pain. If you experience more pain, then you probably don't have short leg syndrome.
- If your pain improves after two or more days, but doesn't disappear completely, add another 1/4 inch pad (for a total height of 1/2 inch).
- Keep that pad in place for at least two days, unless it is causing increased pain. If you experience more pain, remove about 1/8 inch of foam from the pad and try it again for two days.
- This method will allow you to learn if you have a short leg – and it will help you determine how short your leg is.
Leg length discrepancy can be treated in various ways — whether the pain is in the feet, ankles, knees, hips, or lower back. The basic solution is making both legs equal in length when walking and standing. It can help to build up the sole and heel of your shoe. However, soles can wear down rapidly and unevenly, causing the symptoms to recur.
However shoe lifts and shoe orthotics are made from molds of your feet. They will not wear down for years – saving you money and pain! With 30 years of experience, the staff at Novis has found that custom-made shoe orthotics are the only way to address a short leg, providing pain-free standing and walking.
Our custom-made shoe orthotics are made of comfortable, flexible thermoplastic materials. The shoe orthotics add material to the short leg to overcome the shortage. The material has a "memory" which allows the orthotic shoe to compress comfortably with each step and then regain its original height and shape. This provides comfort to the heels, arches, and balls of the feet. The materials will last for years before wearing down.
Shoe lifts and shoe orthotics can also be designed to relieve the pain of calluses, neuromas, chronic metatarsalgia, and other conditions that cause pain in the short leg. If your shortage is 1/4 inch or less, you can wear a Novis shoe orthotic in most dress shoes. If the shortage is greater than 1/4 inch, then you may be limited to using walking shoes, gym shoes, or dress orthopedic shoes.
In our 30 year history, our custom-made orthotic shoes and custom-made sports shoe orthotics have allowed hundreds of patients with a short leg syndrome enjoy life again, pain free!