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Limb Length Discrepancy

January 29, 2024 Staff

Lower extremity limb length discrepancy (LLD) is a condition where there is a significant difference in the lengths of the legs. It can affect individuals of any age and can result from congenital causes, developmental conditions, injury, or disease. The discrepancy can range from a minor difference that causes no problems to a significant imbalance that affects walking, posture, and overall quality of life.


LLD can be caused by several factors, including:

  • Congenital conditions: Some individuals are born with or develop conditions that affect the growth of one leg, such as congenital femoral deficiency or fibular hemimelia.

  • Growth plate injury: Injuries to the growth plates in children can lead to premature closure of the plate, resulting in a shorter limb.

  • Infection or disease: Infections, tumors, or diseases affecting the bones can lead to discrepancies in limb length.

  • Surgical procedures: Operations, especially those involving the removal of bone or growth plate, can contribute to LLD.


The symptoms of LLD vary depending on the severity of the discrepancy and may include:

  • Difficulty walking or running, with a limp or altered gait.

  • Pain in the back, hip, knee, or ankle due to altered biomechanics.

  • Postural issues, including tilting of the pelvis.


Diagnosis of LLD involves a physical examination and often imaging studies. Measurements of the limbs are taken, and tools like X-rays, MRI, or CT scans may be used to assess the bone length and structure accurately.


Treatment for LLD depends on the cause, severity, and the patient's age and may include:

  • Observation: Minor discrepancies may simply be monitored over time, especially if they do not cause symptoms or functional limitations.

  • Shoe lifts or orthotic devices: For mild to moderate discrepancies, shoe lifts or custom orthotics can help equalize leg length and improve gait and comfort.

  • Physical therapy: Exercises may help strengthen muscles and improve balance and coordination.

  • Surgical intervention: In cases of significant discrepancy, surgery might be recommended. Options include:Epiphysiodesis: A procedure to halt growth in the longer limb to allow the shorter limb to catch up.
    Limb lengthening: Techniques to gradually lengthen the shorter limb using external fixators or internal devices.
    Limb shortening: Shortening the longer limb, though this is less common.


Decisions about treatment take into account the expected amount of discrepancy at skeletal maturity, the age and overall health of the patient, and the potential impact on the individual's life. The goal of treatment is to minimize the discrepancy, improve function, and reduce the risk of secondary musculoskeletal problems.


With appropriate management, individuals with LLD can lead active, healthy lives. The prognosis largely depends on the underlying cause of the discrepancy and the effectiveness of the chosen treatment strategy. Early intervention and personalized treatment plans are key to achieving the best outcomes.

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