Ask the Doc...
By Dr. Lou Pack
“I have one leg longer than the other. Should I be concerned?”
Although certainly not on a par with cancer or heart disease, the importance of equalizing leg lengths is greatly underestimated, usually not evaluated, and if found, left uncorrected; especially if less than a quarter of an inch, which is considered normal.
But “normal,” means what the average person has. The average person also has high cholesterol, weighs more, and is less active and more stressed than a healthy person should be. So I don’t think we really want to be average.
Unequal leg lengths can be due to structural or functional causes. It’s important to differentiate these causes and treat them appropriately.
Now, after treating arthritic patients for 35 years, I am still amazed at the powerful, positive impact of equalizing leg lengths. For example, when a patient with an arthritic hip or knee does a simple squat with the proper amount of correction under their short leg, often there is an immediate decrease in pain.
That’s because abnormal alignment causes excessive wear on the joints, which results in destructive arthritic changes and subsequent pain. By equalizing leg lengths, arthritic patients can often be made to function on the part of their knee or hip joint that still has cartilage. This occurs in the same way that realigning the tires on your car enables you to ride on the tread that is still there, thus improving ride quality and extending the life or your tires.
Although often overlooked, it’s even more important after a knee or hip replacement because this type of surgery very often results in a leg length that is longer or shorter than it was before the joint was replaced! This causes additional stress on the new joint, as well as the other weight bearing joints of the feet, ankles, knees, hip and back.
Unequal leg lengths have the same powerful affect in sports. In golf for example, equalizing leg lengths can increase performance and decrease injuries.
So if you’re interested in preventative health, decreasing the stress on your weight bearing joints, or improving sports performance, equalize your leg lengths. And sometimes it’s as simple as putting a lift in your shoe on the shorter side!
A former Clinical Instructor of Medicine at Emory, Dr. Pack practices at MCG Medical Associates, at Reynolds Plantation. He works with patients who have arthritis and wish to decrease joint symptoms and remain active. He also treats athletes at all levels, including Olympic gold medalists, and helps the UGA Golf Team. For further information please see his web site at "http://www.drloupack.com" or call 706-454-0040.
Published in the January 29, 2009 edition.