A slight difference in leg length – does it really matter?
February 22, 2018
A lot of us have heard that it’s not uncommon to have a slight difference in the size of our feet or even legs. We often advise patients to buy shoes to the size of the larger foot so that toes don’t get cramped and cause pain. But when it comes to having a slight difference in the length of the legs, does it make any difference or have any effect on the body? Let’s start with the basics about limb length discrepancies.
What effect does a leg length difference have on a person?For some, having a small difference in leg length won’t cause any problems, and they may not even be aware of the problem. For others, it can cause painful symptoms, alter their gait pattern (the way they walk), contribute to the development of other complications and negatively impact their quality of life. The extent of the effect largely depends on the measurable difference between the two legs and how the body is functioning (or not functioning) to compensate for the difference.
What causes a difference in leg length?Differences may be caused by:
- Growth abnormalities
- Bone injury that results in healing in a shortened position (like a break or a fracture)
- Damage to the growth plate during childhood
- Bone disease and infection
- Neurological conditions
- Inflammatory conditions affecting the joints (like arthritis)
- Abnormal foot biomechanics
- Tightness and contractures of tissues
- Ligament laxity and weakness
What are the symptoms?Symptoms can vary greatly depending on the extent of the difference and the resulting misalignment of the lower limbs. This position of the bones, joints, muscles and connective tissues will determine what structures are overloaded, stressed, stretched and limited in the way they move. Because of this, it is difficult to pinpoint precise symptoms, but may include:
- Altered gait pattern such as limping
- Shorter steps on the affected leg
- Slower walking speed
- Uneven loading and pressure distribution between the legs
- Stress fractures
- Muscular strain and tendinopathies
- Hip pain
- Knee pain
- Back pain