Leg Length Discrepancy? Nobody's Perfect
It may seem a bit callous to simply dismiss a leg length discrepancy as a condition common to most of us, and therefore not a big deal. After all, none of us were put together perfectly. Our left side doesn’t match up exactly with our right side in most instances. Shoe salesmen tell you that one of your feet is often a little bit larger than the other, which is why it's always a good idea to try out both new shoes before taking them out of the store.
It really doesn't take much in the way of a difference between one side of our body and the other to notice a difference exists, although we usually can't put a finger on just what that difference really is. The left half of our face isn't exactly like our right side, though for most of us the difference is slight. Still, we tend to notice we have a “good side” and a “bad side” when being photographed. We can see a difference, though we may find it difficult to describe what it is. One side is just “different”. Some people walk with one shoulder raised slightly higher than the other, or one hip is carried consistently, though nearly imperceptibly, higher than the other. We usually balance better on one foot than on the other, though we may not understand why that is. For whatever reason, our left and right sides are not mirror images of one other. It's just the way we're made.
Your Legs Were Not Created Equal
If you were to take a very precise measurement of your legs, you'd likely discover a leg length discrepancy. It would be a small fraction of an inch at the very most, certainly not enough to affect either your appearance or the way you walk. The normal variation for the third of the population who have a measurable discrepancy, is just a bit over 1/4". Not a problem. Most people have even less of a discrepancy. But, there are those who have a greater discrepancy. People tend to consider leg length discrepancy to be noticeable and/or bothersome whenever the difference between the length of the legs exceeds one inch.
When It Becomes A Problem
A leg length discrepancy of greater than an inch can often become a problem. One's posture may be affected, or more noticeably, a person's walking characteristic or gait may be affected. It may seem reasonable to assume that any large difference in leg length could be a source of back problems, but there is to date no hard evidence to back that up. In more extreme cases, a noticeable difference in leg length can adversely affect one's mobility or one's quality of life. Injury, rather than genetics is the leading cause of pronounced leg length discrepancy, and the problem is often traceable back to one's childhood, even if genetics is not to blame. A broken bone may heal in a slightly different or shortened position, especially if a bone in the leg has been broken in more than one place. Bone growth in children can be affected by a fracture since, depending upon where the break occurs, bone growth, and consequently leg growth, may proceed more slowly than normal.
A leg infection or joint disease in an infant can sometimes negatively influence bone growth in one of the legs, leading to a permanent difference in leg length as the child matures. Although uncommon, there have been instances where a difference in leg length can be traced back to birth, where either the back or front of a leg is underdeveloped. Usually it is one of the lower leg bones that becomes too short as the child grows.
Shoe Lifts Or Surgery?
If you happen fall into that segment of the population having a pronounced leg length discrepancy, can anything be done to remedy the problem? The answer is usually “Yes”, depending of course on what caused or led up the difference. As is often the case medical issues, there are usually one of two options available, a surgical one and a non-surgical one. The most common non-surgical option is to wear a shoe lift. This will very often suffice if the discrepancy is noticeable, but relatively minor. Wearing a shoe lift is not a cure of course, but often it is all that is needed to allow a person to walk and run normally. Surgical treatment is usually not considered if something as simple as a shoe lift will serve its purpose.
If the discrepancy is leg length is much more than an inch, surgery may be the only viable option. Surgery always carries some risks, but in most cases the benefits far outweigh any risk involved. When performed on children, the surgical procedures are usually not complicated, and are designed to equalize the rate of growth in the legs. If the problem is due to an injury, such as the aforementioned case of multiple bone breaks, surgery can be a great deal more complicated, but is still usually effective.