Leg length discrepancy is a condition in which both the legs are not of equal length. This may give an appearance that one leg is shorter than the other. The causes of leg length discrepancy can be many, including congenital defects or can be acquired, which may include injuries, fractures, infections or certain medical conditions affecting the bone.
Leg length discrepancy can be a result of true discrepancy, which is caused by real differences in the leg lengths. In other cases, the causes of leg length discrepancy may be due to conditions that result in change in the angle of the pelvic or hip bone. In these cases, as the hip gets tilted to one side and the other side gets raised, the leg on that side appears to be shorter. In either cases, it results in an appearance of one leg being shorter than the other.
However, it is important to understand the basis and causes of leg length discrepancy to manage the condition well. Just as the causes are important, it is also essential to understand the effect of leg length discrepancy on a person's health and overall performance. Leg length discrepancy can affect physical and mental health and can also be related to spinal problems like scoliosis.
Can Leg Length Discrepancy Cause Scoliosis?
Leg length discrepancy, due to uneven leg lengths, can affect the normal gait of the person. The main noticeable function is the way a person walks or performs body movements. These can get affected or be difficult due to leg length discrepancy. Changes in normal movements can further lead to certain complications like pain, discomfort, weak muscles or imbalances of the muscles on both sides of the body. Leg length discrepancy can affect the hip, knees and ankle, can cause dysfunction and pain.
The muscles on either side of the body and those connected to the hip can get pulled due to tilting of the hip bone. This can be one the major effects of leg length discrepancy, in which the back muscles get pulled to one side, causing changes in the curvature of the spine. Such changes can ultimately result into sideways pulling of the spinal curvature, which is termed as scoliosis. There is much concern whether leg length discrepancy can cause scoliosis and it is important to understand this to plan proper treatment and avoid further complications.
Leg Length Discrepancy and Scoliosis
Many studies have been conducted, which revolve around the possibility of leg length discrepancy being a cause of scoliosis. It is believed that scoliosis can be one of the possible contributing causes of leg length discrepancy, as spinal tilting can affect the length of both legs. At the same time, leg length discrepancy can also result in pulling of the back muscles to one side, which can contribute to some extent to or worsen existing scoliosis.
As the spinal curvature gets tilted to one side, it may result in scoliosis, which may be functional in the beginning. In functional scoliosis there may be slight tilting or pulling of the muscles to one side, without much changes or damage to the structure of the spine. However, if functional scoliosis, which is caused or aggravated by leg length discrepancy is not treated in time, it can worsen, causing changes in the structure of the spinal curvature. This can result in structural scoliosis, which may not be only more painful and disturbing but also difficult to manage.
Some studies have revealed that scoliosis in some persons is the result of compensatory mechanism, to make up for the leg length discrepancy. Simply said, in leg length discrepancy, the legs are of unequal lengths, so to match the lengths the person pulls the shorter side down and the hip begins to tilt. This, when continued for a longer period of time, can result in pulling of the back muscles to one side, making changes in the spinal curvature. Scoliosis is one such change in spinal curvature, in which the spine gets curved to one side, comprising other activities.
Symptoms of Scoliosis Due to Leg Length Discrepancy
A person who has developed scoliosis due to leg length discrepancy, usually presents with tilting of the hip. In addition to the symptoms of leg length discrepancy, the person may also experience pain in the back muscles, imbalances of muscle strength and function of the back muscles. Depending on the exact location of scoliosis in the spine, it can cause low back pain, middle or upper back pain, which can extend to the shoulders and arms in some cases. Bending, twisting movements may be difficult and it may also be painful to hold or lift objects.
The appearance of the shoulders may be different due to scoliosis and one shoulder may appear raised than the other. This can cause difficulty in shoulder, arm and neck movements and also cause pain. If the condition is left unattended, it can sometimes result into severe degrees of scoliosis.
Treatment of Scoliosis Due to Leg Length Discrepancy
It is importance to understand if leg length discrepancy can cause scoliosis. If complications of leg length discrepancy have resulted in scoliosis, the treatment options may have to be planned accordingly.
In some cases, leg length discrepancy can contribute to or worsen existing scoliosis, hence, correcting leg length discrepancy with heel lift must be planned carefully. It is important to thoroughly evaluate any case with leg length discrepancy, as they can cause scoliosis in some cases. If scoliosis is apparent, prescribing a heel lift to correct leg length discrepancy can increase the chances of worsening the scoliosis due to increased tilting.
Hence, it is essential to study the biomechanics of the hip, assess the tilting and the changes in the spinal curvature in scoliosis due to leg length discrepancy. Depending on the causes, some cases of leg length discrepancy may require procedure for surgical correction of leg lengths. Once the symptoms, causes and scoliosis like complications of leg length discrepancy, are properly evaluated a multi-disciplinary treatment approach can be planned.