Your child has been diagnosed with a leg-length discrepancy. This means that your child?s legs are slightly different lengths, with one leg longer than the other. The difference in lengths can vary widely. The larger the difference in lengths, the more problems that can result as the child gets older. Because of this, your child may be referred to a pediatric orthopedist (doctor specializing in treating bone and joint problems in children) for evaluation and possible treatment.
Leg length discrepancies can be caused by poor alignment of the pelvis or simply because one leg is structurally longer than the other. Regardless of the reason, your body wants to be symmetrical and will do its best to compensate for the length difference. The greater the leg length difference, the earlier the symptoms will present themselves to the patient. Specific diagnoses that coincide with leg length discrepancy include: scoliosis, lumbar herniated discs, sacroiliitis, pelvic obiliquity, greater trochanteric bursitis, hip arthritis, piriformis syndrome, patellofemoral syndrome and foot pronation. Other potential causes could be due to an injury (such as a fracture), bone disease, bone tumors, congenital problems (present at birth) or from a neuromuscular problem.
LLD do not have any pain or discomfort directly associated with the difference of one leg over the other leg. However, LLD will place stress on joints throughout the skeletal structure of the body and create discomfort as a byproduct of the LLD. Just as it is normal for your feet to vary slightly in size, a mild difference in leg length is normal, too. A more pronounced LLD, however, can create abnormalities when walking or running and adversely affect healthy balance and posture. Symptoms include a slight limp. Walking can even become stressful, requiring more effort and energy. Sometimes knee pain, hip pain and lower back pain develop. Foot mechanics are also affected causing a variety of complications in the foot, not the least, over pronating, metatarsalgia, bunions, hammer toes, instep pain, posterior tibial tendonitis, and many more.
There are several orthopedic tests that are used, but they are rudimentary and have some degree of error. Even using a tape measure with specific anatomic landmarks has its errors. Most leg length differences can be seen with a well trained eye, but I always recommend what is called a scanagram, or a x-ray bone length study (see picture above). This test will give a precise measurement in millimeters of the length difference.
Non Surgical Treatment
In an adult, we find that we can add a non compressive silicone heel lift to a shoe in increments of 3-4 mm maximum per week. Were we to give a patient with a 20 mm short leg, 20 mm of lift all at once, their entire body would rebel. The various compensations that the body has made, such as curvatures and shortening of muscles on the convex side of the curve, would make such a dramatic change not just noticeable, but painful. When we get close to balancing a patient by lifting a leg with heel inserts, then we perform another gait analysis and follow up xray. At that point, we can typically write them a final prescription to have their shoe modified. A heel lift is typically fine up to 7 mm. When it gets higher than that, the entire shoe must be modified. There are two reasons for this. The back of the shoe is generally too short to accommodate more than 7-8 mm inserted inside the shoes and a heel lift greater than 7 mm will lead to Achilles tendon shortening, which then creates it?s own panoply of problems.
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Surgical lengthening of the shorter extremity (upper or lower) is another treatment option. The bone is lengthened by surgically applying an external fixator to the extremity in the operating room. The external fixator, a scaffold-like frame, is connected to the bone with wires, pins or both. A small crack is made in the bone and tension is created by the frame when it is "distracted" by the patient or family member who turns an affixed dial several times daily. The lengthening process begins approximately five to ten days after surgery. The bone may lengthen one millimeter per day, or approximately one inch per month. Lengthening may be slower in adults overall and in a bone that has been previously injured or undergone prior surgery. Bones in patients with potential blood vessel abnormalities (i.e., cigarette smokers) may also lengthen more slowly. The external fixator is worn until the bone is strong enough to support the patient safely, approximately three months per inch of lengthening. This may vary, however, due to factors such as age, health, smoking, participation in rehabilitation, etc. Risks of this procedure include infection at the site of wires and pins, stiffness of the adjacent joints and slight over or under correction of the bone?s length. Lengthening requires regular follow up visits to the physician?s office, meticulous hygiene of the pins and wires, diligent adjustment of the frame several times daily and rehabilitation as prescribed by your physician.
Morton's Neuroma is the most common neuroma in the foot. It occurs in the forefoot area (the ball of the foot) at the base of the third and fourth toes. It is sometimes referred to as an intermetatarsal neuroma. "Intermetatarsal" describes its location in the ball of the foot between the metatarsal bones (the bones extending from the toes to the midfoot). A neuroma is a thickening, or enlargement, of the nerve as a result of compression or irritation of the nerve. Compression and irritation creates swelling of the nerve, which can eventually lead to permanent nerve damage.
In many cases, a neuroma may develop as a result of excessive loading on the front of the foot. Sometimes, a patient?s anatomic alignment in the forefoot contributes to the overload. There may be some cases where the neuroma develops spontaneously, for no obvious reason. However, once the nerve is irritated, pressure from walking, and from the adjacent bony prominences (metatarsal heads), as well as from the intermetatarsal ligament that binds the heads together, all may contribute to persistent pain. Repetitive pressure on the nerve causes localized injury with resulting scarring and fibrosis of the nerve. This leads to symptoms in the distribution of the nerve.
Neuroma pain is classically described as a burning pain in the forefoot. It can also be felt as an aching or shooting pain in the forefoot. Patients with this problem frequently say they feel like they want to take off their shoes and rub their foot. This pain may occur in the middle of a run or at the end of a long run. If your shoes are quite tight or the neuroma is very large, the pain may be present even when walking. Occasionally a sensation of numbness is felt in addition to the pain or even before the pain appears.
You should visit a doctor or podiatrist (foot doctor) if you have pain or tingling that does not stop. Your health care provider will examine your feet and will apply pressure on the spaces between the bones of the toes to determine the location of the foot pain. The doctor may order X-rays to rule out other conditions associated with foot pain, such as a stress fracture or arthritis. X-rays alone will not show whether or not a neuroma is present, so an ultrasound scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test may be done to confirm the diagnosis. A diagnostic procedure called an electromyography is sometimes used to rule out nerve conditions that may cause symptoms like those of associated with Morton?s neuroma.
Non Surgical Treatment
The good news is that the pain can often be relieved fairly easily with the right softer styled orthotic (even in those cases where there is concurrent plantar plate tears and capsulitis!), but its important to remeber that even if your no longer in pain, there is no magic cure to speeding up the healing process so one must take care of their feet for 6-12 weeks. As a rule of thumb a neuroma should always be treated conservatively where possible. This means icing and resting the area, trying to remove the causative factors, and providing postural control and support via metatarsal domes or, if needed, specialised pre-made or custom made orthotics.
Recently, an increasing number of procedures are being performed at specialist centers under radiological or ultrasound guidance. Recent studies have shown excellent results for the treatment of Morton's neuroma with ultrasound guided steroid injections, ultrasound guided sclerosing alcohol injections, ultrasound guided radiofrequency ablation and ultrasound guided cryo-ablation.
Wearing proper footwear that minimizes compression of the forefoot can help to prevent the development of and aggravation of a Morton's neuroma.