Did you know that many people have one leg longer than the other? Leg length differences of up to 1” are relatively common.  One of the most frequent causes of a leg length discrepancy (LLD) is knee or hip replacement surgery.  Below is a list of symptoms that often accompany LLD. Read on to see if any of these issues sound familiar to you:

–          Chronically sore hips and lower back. The muscles in your hips and lower back are part of the lateral longitudinal system. These muscles work together to stabilize your pelvis and keep your hips in line. If one leg is shorter than the other, your body constantly has to re-adjust to accommodate the discrepancy – this can cause soreness and overuse injuries such as bursitis, tendonitis and sciatic nerve pain/ impingement.

–          Collapsing arch (on only one side). Your body is constantly adjusting to your movement patterns and working to reduce stress and shock on your musculoskeletal system. One way that your body can mask a LLD is to functionally shorten your longer leg by allowing that foot’s arch to drop. This can shorten the longer leg by up to a ½ ”.

–          Poor balance. Normal walking gait has a small amount of lateral motion as the weight is shifted from one foot to another, but if you have an LLD you will sway side to side excessively as you walk. This swaying might make it hard for you to walk in a straight line; also you may experience vertigo or stumbling. Your head is your body’s “control tower” and your body exerts a lot of energy to make sure that your head stays level. When your “foundations” (your legs) are uneven, the control tower will experience a lot of movement. This can confuse your Proprioception (Proprioception = your sense of where your body is in space).  For more on proprioception, read this: http://physioworks.com.au/treatments-1/proprioception-balance-exercises

–          Tightness in your neck or shoulders. Sometimes, in an effort to keep your head level, your body tightens up in the neck and shoulder area. If one leg is shorter than the other, your hip on the short side will be lower than the other. You may be unconsciously lifting the shoulder on your shorter side in order to try to stand straight. This can lead to reoccurring knots and tension especially in in the top of your shoulders and the sides of your neck.


–          Loud steps. Do you notice that you walk loudly? If you walk in a quiet place with a hard floor you may notice that one of your feet always seems to hit the floor more forcefully than the other. This is often the case when someone has a LLD; the body weight is being dropped onto the shorter leg much more violently than the longer leg. If this happens to you, it can increase the amount of force that travels up your leg with every step. Extra force can increase the chances of injury in your legs, hip and back.

There is more to come…my next posts will include a discussion of the assessment and treatment options available to people who have an LLD.  Until then, I hope you walk well.

Pictures from:

National Academy of Sports Medicine http://www.nasm.org/