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What is Short Leg Syndrome?

By Pamela Pleasant
Updated May 17, 2024
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Short leg syndrome is a medical condition that causes pain and discomfort in the back and legs due to a difference in the leg lengths. If one leg is shorter than the other, there is no way to maintain balance, which causes painful symptoms. Attempting to compensate for the difference in leg lengths can make matters much worse also. For example, trying to place the foot on the ground and leaning on or favoring the shortened leg can put pressure on the back or the legs. Short leg syndrome can also cause an inflammation of the sciatic nerve in the back and knee pain.

There are a few medical conditions that can cause short leg syndrome. An infant can be born with this condition due to congenital causes or problems during delivery can injure an infant’s hip, causing a dislocation. Tipping the pelvis or having poor posture can have a negative effect on the legs. Fractures or leg breaks do not heal properly also can cause short leg syndrome. Surgeries that are done on the knees or hips can also change the lengths of the legs.

The treatment for short leg syndrome depends on what type of problem is seen. An anatomical short leg is diagnosed by measuring the length of the leg from the hip to the ankle. After measuring both legs, there will be a notable difference in the two measurements. With a functional short leg, the measurement of the legs is the same but the abnormality lies in the displacement of the pelvis. Functional short leg syndrome can also cause pain in the muscles, joints and nerves, which produces tingling sensations, headaches, and numbness in the legs or arms.

When treating short leg syndrome, it is important to make sure that both legs are made equal in length. Wearing shoes with an enhanced heal or lift can be a temporary fix, but the soles on the shoes can wear down over time and the painful symptoms can return. An orthotic, custom-made lift can be made from a mold of the foot. This custom lift will be made to fit an individual foot and will not wear down even after a long period of time. These custom-made orthotic lifts are only recommended if the differences in leg lengths are under a quarter of an inch (6.35 millimeters).

An asymmetry of any limb can have a negative effect on the entire body. It can even change the way teeth come together while chewing. Early diagnosis and immediate treatment can help to lessen the painful symptoms.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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