Have you every heard someone say their chiropractor told them they have a long or a short leg? Sounds crazy, but in most cases, it’s just a figure of speech. There are some medical conditions associated with true leg length discrepancies in which the length of either the femur or tibia is longer or shorter than the “normal” leg. A few examples would be post-polio, secondary to severe fractures, or an artificial hip/knee procedure.
What is an apparent leg length discrepancy?
An apparent leg length discrepancy is when one leg appears to be shorter or longer due to a condition in the pelvis or spine. This is common with lumbar scoliosis. Because of the bend in the lower spine, the pelvis becomes uneven, therefore causing one leg to appear longer than the other.
However, the most common cause of a leg length discrepancy is a rotation of the pelvis. The two halves of the pelvis connect to the tailbone to form the sacroiliac joints. These joints are stabilized by strong ligaments, but with each step the pelvis will rock back and forth to absorb and transfer forces to our legs. At times, the joint can become inflamed or muscles around the joint may spasm and limit the rotation movement of the joints. Since the ball and socket joint of the hip is not located in the direct center of each pelvis, if the pelvis gets “stuck” forward on the right, it will cause a slight lengthening of the right leg (a long leg).
How do you fix a leg length discrepancy?
It is very important to understand the body is excellent at adapting to the environment. I do not recommend altering a leg length discrepancy if you are not symptomatic!
True leg length discrepancies are typically not addressed unless there is greater than a ½ inch discrepancy. A heel lift may be used for small discrepancies, or custom fit shoes with a larger sole may be produced to help with large leg length discrepancies. As a rule of thumb, the heel lift should only correct ½ of the discrepancy.
Apparent leg length discrepancies can be corrected with a few chiropractic manipulations and corrective stretching/strengthening exercises that will train the pelvis to maintain the correct position. For example, the hip flexors connect to front edge of the pelvis, and if we stretch those muscles aggressively it will pull the pelvis forward to lengthen a short leg. On the contrary, aggressively stretching of the hamstrings will rotate the pelvis backward to reduce a long leg.
Dr. Custer is the owner/operator of Better Care Chiropractic. Dr. Custer graduated from Texas Chiropractic College in 2005 with highest honors, Summa Cum Laude. He combines his 15 plus years of experience in injury rehabilitation (as an athletic trainer) with his chiropractic education to promote a fast and efficient recovery process.
If you have questions/comments/suggestions, please feel free to contact Dr. Custer at firstname.lastname@example.org.