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Limb Length Discrepancy and Lower Back Pain
Limb Length Discrepancy and Lower Back Pain

Numerous factors can cause lower back pain: compressed discs, pinched nerves, pulled muscles. Did you know, though, that as many as 70 percent of people suffer from a problem called “leg length discrepancy”? This issue can also be a source of lower back pain.

Leg length discrepancies can be broken into two categories of discrepancy, structural and functional. According to the Academy of Clinical Massage, structural discrepancy occurs when the bones grow to different lengths, with one bone being shorter than the other and resulting in the pelvis being tilted higher on one side. Functional discrepancy, on the other hand, is when one leg appears to be shorter because of an imbalance in the muscles, tendons, and ligaments of the hip and leg.

A study performed by physical therapist Yvonne Golightly and Dr. Joanne Jordan shows that structural leg discrepancies tend to result in an increased risk of developing osteoarthritis in the knee and hip of the shorter leg. Interestingly, no studies link back pain to structural leg discrepancies. Jamey Plunk, PhD and a professor in Exercise Science at University of Mary Hardin-Baylor notes, “In some instances, leg length differences are due to a structural problem like scoliosis. Amazingly, many people with this type of condition who exercise have managed to make it work without any major problems.”

Those who suffer from functional leg length discrepancy are those who tend to suffer from lower back pain. The Academy of Clinical Massage shares that tight back muscles on the “short side” are often the cause of the leg length difference. The side that appears shorter often has a “lateral pelvic tilt and a shortening of the lateral flexor muscles.” This sideways pull increases compression on the facet joints for the short side and decreases the space between the vertebra which can lead to pinched nerves (sciatica). If you have a job where you are on your feet a lot, the problem is just made worse as the muscles tighten more.

For a proper diagnosis of whether you suffer from actual or functional discrepancy, a doctor needs to perform a laser and ultra sound calculation. Once the type of discrepancy has been determined, the correct treatment can be prescribed. For those who suffer from actual leg length discrepancy, an orthotic for your shoe or a heal wedge may be all that is needed to correct the problem. For a discrepancy that’s over one centimeter, Dr. John Herzenberg states that a more permanent solution should be considered. A specialist in orthopedics should be seen.

For those who suffer from a functional discrepancy, treatment can vary, and sufferers tend to settle in on what works most effectively for them.

  • Chiropractic: Because the pelvis gets rotated and pulls the leg up and out of place compressing the lower back, a chiropractic adjustment can put the wayward joint back into place. Before rotating the pelvis back into position, ligaments and muscles need to be stretched. Blocking is one technique chiropractors use to help relax the muscles so that the body will take the adjustment better. Once complete, the chiropractor should measure to make sure both legs are the same length. This fix is not permanent and will need to be repeated on a regular basis.
  • Pandiculation: Repeated movements due to functional discrepancy can keep the muscles surrounding the hip and pelvis tight, holding the leg out of place. Learning to make the muscles relax may allow the leg to naturally go back to its normal position and remain without further treatment. If used in conjunction with chiropractic adjustments, the adjustments may hold better and longer.
  • Massage: Another way to relax the muscles that are tight and pulling the joints out of position is manual massage. Sufferers would want to locate a masseuse who understands how to work with leg length discrepancies and the problems they create.

Just choosing to suffer through the back pain or curbing your activities because you think your pain requires it should not be an option. Find out the source of your suffering and see how you can be helped. The specialists at Atlanta and Brain Spine Care can make sure you get a proper diagnosis of the cause of your lower back pain and can develop a treatment plan that is customized to your needs. Contact them today!

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