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Leg Length Differences


Most people are asymmetrical, some more so than others. Just as the muscles are more developed on the right side of a right handed person, so will one leg be slightly more developed than the other. One of the most common asymmetries noticed during a routine chiropractic exam is a difference in leg length. Such a difference usually goes unnoticed by the patient, although in some cases they have had to hem their pants higher on one side.

This condition becomes exaggerated over time, through wear and tear or injury, and eventually leads to problems. Lower back pain is often associated with leg length inequality and is perhaps the most common complaint. As the spine curves to adapt, the mobility of the small joints between the vertebrae is impaired and a rotational strain is put on the disc. This added strain is not only a source of discomfort and stiffness, but promotes degeneration of these structures and can lead to osteoarthritis of the spine.

Muscles of the back are also affected by this asymmetry. One side will be overstretched and subject to strain and spasm; the other side will become contracted and shorter. The uneven load on the hips and knees can result in arthritis in those joints as well as shin splints, ankle problems, and heel pains.

There are many conditions which will exaggerate leg length differences. A fracture or bad sprain, especially in childhood, may cause the affected limb to be shorter when it is healed. A pronated foot, in which the arch has begun to collapse, will cause a reduction in height on that side. But, by far the most common leg length difference is one that is functional rather than anatomical. It is caused by pelvic distortion or twisting due to sacroiliac misalignment. It can be the reult of postural faults, such as standing on one leg, sitting with legs crossed and carrying babies or other loads on one hip.

The effects of this postural distortion often come on slowly and gradually and may manifest as back pain only after some damage has already occurred. Occasionally, it manifests as sudden, acute back pain after a fairly innocent activity, such as bending forward to put your shoes on. When the spine is already under strain adapting to a leg length difference, even simple activities may push it beyond its capacity.

Chiropractors routinely screen for leg length differences as well as pelvic distortion and scoliosis. By manipulating the joints of the spine, pelvis and limbs, regular chiropractic treatments can correct functional leg length differences and allow the body to compensate for anatomical ones, avoiding associated complications.

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