Today’s Tuesday tip is about leg length differences! Do you have one leg that seems longer than the other? It probably is, but doesn’t mean it has always been that way. Most people have small differences in leg lengths and they can be classified as either structural or functional.
According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, “A limb length difference may simply be a mild variation between the two sides of the body…For example, 32 percent of military recruits in one study had a 1/5- to 3/5-inch difference between the lengths of their legs”. This kind of variation is normal but anything more than this can cause problems such as low back pain, abnormal walking patterns and muscle weakness and tightness due to compensation.
Leg length differences can either be a) structural – you were born that way or b) functional – it is caused by pelvic rotation, commonly a sacroiliac joint dysfunction, which can make one leg to function as though it is longer or shorter than the other. This is why it is not surprising that I often see this in clients after pregnancy! During and after pregnancy your SI (Sacro-iliac) joints can shift and become unstable due to the hormone relaxin. The expansion and contraction of the pelvis can also disrupt alignment and create these differences during and after pregnancy. This can throw the whole spine out of alignment and contribute to back pain and poor posture.
Most people compensate by favoring the longer leg. The muscles of the longer leg are stronger than the other leg and can be tight in certain areas. Structural differences can be helped with a heel lift but with functional leg length discrepancy a heel lift isn’t very useful. Proper manual therapy techniques and specific therapeutic exercises are needed to correct pelvic alignment and compensatory patterns so you can fix the problem long term.
Bottom line…if you suspect that your legs are uneven and are having back pain because of it seek out a PT for an evaluation and try this self test at home!