The bone is lengthened by surgically applying an external fixation device to the leg. 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 the frame creates tension when the patient or family member turns its dial. This is done several times each day. The lengthening process begins approximately five to 10 days after surgery. The bone may lengthen 1 millimeter per day, or approximately 1 inch per month. Lengthening may be slower in a bone that was previously injured. It may also be slower if the leg was operated on before. Bones in patients with potential blood vessel abnormalities, such as cigarette smokers, may also need to be lengthened more slowly. The external fixator is worn until the bone is strong enough to support the patient safely. This usually takes about three months for each inch. Factors such as age, health, smoking and participation in rehabilitation can affect the amount of time needed.
Some causes of leg length discrepancy (other than anatomical). Dysfunction of the hip joint itself leading to compensatory alterations by the joint and muscles that impact on the joint. Muscle mass itself, i.e., the vastus lateralis muscle, pushes the iliotibial band laterally, causing femoral compensations to maintain a line of progression during the gait cycle. This is often misdiagnosed as I-T band syndrome and subsequently treated incorrectly. The internal rotators of the lower limb are being chronically short or in a state of contracture. According to Cunningham's Manual of Practical Anatomy these are muscles whose insertion is lateral to the long axis of the femur. The external rotators of the hip joint are evidenced in the hip rotation test. The iliosacral joint displays joint fixations on the superior or inferior transverse, or the sagittal axes. This may result from many causes including joint, muscle, osseous or compensatory considerations. Short hamstring muscles, i.e., the long head of the biceps femoris muscle. In the closed kinetic chain an inability of the fibula to drop inferior will result in sacrotuberous ligament loading failure. The sacroiliac joint dysfunctions along its right or left oblique axis. Failure or incorrect loading of the Back Force Transmission System (the longitudinal-muscle-tendon-fascia sling and the oblique dorsal muscle-fascia-tendon sling). See the proceedings of the first and second Interdisciplinary World Congress on Low Back Pain. Sacral dysfunction (nutation or counternutation) on the respiratory axis. When we consider the above mentioned, and other causes, it should be obvious that unless we look at all of the causes of leg length discrepancy/asymmetry then we will most assuredly reach a diagnosis based on historical dogma or ritual rather than applying the rules of current differential diagnosis.
Patients with significant lower limb length discrepancies may walk with a limp, have the appearance of a curved spine (non-structural scoliosis), and experience back pain or fatigue. In addition, clothes may not fit right.
Asymmetry is a clue that a LLD is present. The center of gravity will shift to the short limb side and patients will try to compensate, displaying indications such as pelvic tilt, lumbar scoliosis, knee flexion, or unilateral foot pronation. Asking simple questions such as, "Do you favor one leg over the other?" or, "Do you find it uncomfortable to stand?" may also provide some valuable information. Performing a gait analysis will yield some clues as to how the patient compensates during ambulation. Using plantar pressure plates can indicate load pressure differences between the feet. It is helpful if the gait analysis can be video-recorded and played back in slow motion to catch the subtle aspects of movement.
Non Surgical Treatment
Treatment depends on what limb has the deformity and the amount of deformity present. For example, there may be loss of function of the leg or arm. Cosmetic issues may also be a concern for the patient and their family. If there are problems with the arms, the goal is to improve the appearance and function of the arm. Treatment of leg problems try to correct the deformity that may cause arthritis as the child gets older. If the problem is leg length, where the legs are not "equal," the goal is equalization (making the legs the same length). Treatment may include the use of adaptive devices, prosthesis, orthotics or shoe lifts. If the problem is more severe and not treatable with these methods, then surgery may be necessary.
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Shortening techniques can be used after skeletal maturity to achieve leg length equality. Shortening can be done in the proximal femur using a blade plate or hip screw, in the mid-diaphysis of the femur using a closed intramedullary (IM) technique, or in the tibia. Shortening is an accurate technique and involves a much shorter convalescence than lengthening techniques. Quadriceps weakness may occur with femoral shortenings, especially if a mid-diaphyseal shortening of greater than 10% is done. If the femoral shortening is done proximally, no significant weakness should result. Tibial shortening can be done, but there may be a residual bulkiness to the leg, and risks of nonunion and compartment syndrome are higher. If a tibial shortening is done, shortening over an IM nail and prophylactic compartment release are recommended. We limit the use of shortenings to 4 to 5 cm leg length inequality in patients who are skeletally mature.