Leg-Length Discrepancies: Definitions, Classifications, Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Leg length discrepancy (LLD) describes the situation in which one person’s legs are longer than the other. As many as 70% of the population may experience this problem.

Classifications: Leg length differences can be structural or functional. Differentiating the two forms of LLD is crucial because they require different treatments.

Causes of Structural Leg Length Differences: When the femur or tibia is noticeably longer than the bone(s) on the opposite leg, this is known as a structural leg length discrepancy. In some cases, this abnormality of the lower extremities is present at birth, while in others it is the result of an injury, surgery, or a debilitating illness.

Causes of Functional Leg Length Discrepancies: When the bone length is the same but a muscle or tendon is different, functional differences occur. Such a situation could result from any of the following functional issues:

  • Tight hip muscles cause one-sided hip elevation.
  • Spine scoliosis
  • Asymmetrical pronation

Symptoms: The type, amount, and source of the leg length discrepancy determine the symptoms, which include:

  • Pain in the lower back
  • Pain in the hips, knees, or feet
  • Walking with a limp or poor balance
  • Constant feeling of leaning to one side etc.

Treatment of functional leg length discrepancies: 

In most cases, a physiotherapist or massage therapist will recommend stretching and strengthening as a means of treating functional differences caused by muscular tightness or imbalance. Functional discrepancies are frequently corrected with custom foot orthotics or off-the-shelf foot orthotics provided by a pedorthist, podiatrist, chiropodist, or orthotist. 

Shoe-lifts are used to fix structural leg length differences:

In most cases, full foot lifts are used to elevate the shorter extremity in order to achieve balance. Heel lifts and/or insoles made to accommodate the shorter foot have proven effective for addressing moderate to severe cases of leg length inequality. 

How do you put heel lifts in a shoe?

Depending on the effect you want, the lift can be put inside the shoe, under the footbed or orthotic, or outside the shoe, on the midsole.

Addition of shoe lifts or orthotics to the footbed: 

Lifts up to about 1 cm in height can be placed within the shoe if the shoe is deep enough and has enough volume throughout the length. This type of heel lift is better than others because it doesn’t add much weight to the shoe and can be hidden by an orthotic or insole.

Inserting shoe lifts into the midsole:

Generally speaking, the midsole of the shoe is where shoe lifts over 1 cm are applied. To do this, the shoe’s midsole is removed, the full-length lift is inserted, and the outsole is reapplied, creating a sandwich. This type of shoe lift, which is meant to make the shoe look better, can only be done by an experienced orthopedic shoe specialist.

Shoe lifts for surgically induced length differences: 

If the difference in leg length is the result of an operation, like a knee or hip replacement, a full-length lift can often correct the issue completely. If your left leg is one centimeter longer than your right after surgery, we can usually give your right leg the same amount of lift, and it won’t feel any different than before.

Shoe lifts for congenital leg length differences:

When the difference is congenital (present at birth) and not found until later in life, giving a lift to make up for the whole difference is usually not well received. The human body will adjust to the difference in height, making a full-height shoe lift uncomfortable. When this occurs, we normally begin by compensating for 60% to 70% of the gap and then adjust the amount based on the results of the follow-up assessment.

Custom-made shoes for uneven leg length:If you have LLD, you know how important it is to wear shoes that support your arches and have the right shoe lift height. If you want to know if a shoe lift is right for your foot type and the activities you plan on participating in, you should talk to a professional who specializes in orthopedic shoe repair. If you want your shoes adjusted to the perfect height, American Heelers is where you should go. We are one of the oldest orthopedic shoe repair centers in the United States, and our work has helped hundreds of thousands of people with LLD walk and participate in other activities without pain or difficulty. If you have questions, feel free to contact us at 216-378-2686 or info@americanheeler.com.