Leg length differences are not uncommon in adults and children. Most of these differences are small enough that nothing needs to be done with them because the body is able to compensate. With children it is possible to see one leg be longer than the other and the difference to go away with the next growth spurt. Adults are not so lucky and it’s possible to have a sudden change in leg length because of vehicle accidents, falls and other bone breaks.
If the leg length difference (LLD) is significant it can cause a person to walk unevenly. LLD can also be a source of pain in the leg, hip and back on one side. The usual way to measure these differences is to get the length between the hip and the inside ankle bone called the medial malleolus. There are two types of LLD:
- The first is called “functional” and it is one where tightness in the back and pelvis pull up more on one side and make the leg shorter. The best way to treat that type is with therapy and exercises to get the muscles and pelvis alignment to go back to normal. Normally such a leg length does not need a shoe or heel lift.
- The other is called “anatomical” and this is where one of the bones in the leg or thigh is shorter than the one on the other side. In such a case, the way to treat that is to put a lift in the shoe or under the heel to bring the legs to equal length.
When a lift like this is put in a shoe, it is expected to make a difference in the uneven walking and pain in a short time. To put a lift inside a shoe, it needs to be 1/4″ thick or less. These lifts can be transferred from shoe to shoe as needed. View a photo of a heel lift to the left. It is about 1/4” thick at the back and tapers to nothing at the front.
If the lift needs to be larger than ¼” thick it is usually permanently applied to the bottom sole of the shoe because otherwise the foot will not fit inside the shoe along with the lift.
If you have a leg length difference consult a Canadian Certified Pedorthist to help keep you more active with less pain.
By Jim Pattison C. Ped (C )