Your Health A-Z

Short leg syndrome

Short leg syndrome refers to when one leg appears longer than the other.

Summary

  • This is either congenital in nature or is acquired through injury
  • Discrepancy in length can be greater than 2.5cm
  • It is diagnosed by means of CT scans, MRI or X-rays
  • It is correctable, but is harder to perform the older the patient becomes

Definition

Short leg syndrome refers to when one leg appears longer than the other. The discrepancy may occur in the femur, tibia or both. Short leg syndrome is divided into two types; congenital (born with the condition) and acquired.

Alternative names

Limb/leg length discrepancy

Causes

Short leg syndrome may arise as a result of any of the following causes:

  • congenital causes, including the position of a developing foetus
  • birth injuries such as hip dislocation that occur during delivery
  • surgery performed on the hip or knee may cause the leg to shrink
  • poor posture involving the pelvis being tilted to one side that causes one side to be higher than the other, making one leg appear longer than the other
  • dislocations or injuries to a leg, even if they may have healed
  • infections/injuries to the growth plates in the leg during childhood

Symptoms

People suffering from short leg syndrome may experience any of the following symptoms:

  • fatigue
  • ankle/foot pain
  • uneasy balance when walking or running
  • nerve inflammation in the lower back and leg
  • knee pain in both legs

Prevalence

Many people suffer from a mild form of this condition – often without being aware of it.

Risk factors

Factors that may result in the development of short leg syndrome are usually attributed to injuries or infections that occurred during childhood. Birth defects are another risk factor.

Diagnosis

Short leg syndrome can be diagnosed by means of computed tomography (CT) scans, X-rays, bone age determinations or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) if necessary. These tests are ordered by an orthopaedic surgeon.

Treatment

If the discrepancy between the two legs of person is less than 2cm, no treatment is required. However, discrepancies greater than 2cm and 2.5cm can be addressed by increasing lift in the shoe. Discrepancies greater than 2.5 cm are harder to treat and patients are thus subjected to a lengthening procedure where the short bone is severed and an external device applied.

Treating short leg syndrome may be conducted in one of the following ways:

  • Shortening the longer leg (usually performed if growth is complete and if the patient is tall enough that losing several centimetres would not be detrimental)
  • Stopping/slowing the growth of the longer leg. Timing of this procedure is critical, as it permanently stops growth.
  • Lengthening the short leg. Many complications exist when attempting to lengthen the short leg, however, there is no real limit to how much longer the leg can be made, but the possibility of complications arising increases the longer the leg becomes.

When to see a doctor

People with short leg syndrome are encouraged to consult a medical professional if they experience pain, or are uncomfortable due to one leg being longer than the other.

What to expect at the doctor

Your doctor will take a physical exam of the patient, taking the medical history of both the patient and the patient’s family into account. The doctor will also examine the patient’s posture, how they walk and how they stand.

Prevention

A previously broken bone that healed in a shortened position may cause short leg syndrome. This usually results from bones that were broken into many pieces, a bone that was fractured and exposed or if the skin and muscle around the bone were severely injured.

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.