In this article we're going to talk about what to do in case you have a leg length discrepancy. You may have been told by a chiropractor or a massage therapist that one of your legs is longer than the other. Maybe you've noticed one leg seems to reach out further than the other when you walk and so you suspect a difference.
What should you do about it? How do you think about a leg length discrepancy in a way that will help you make as much progress with your body on your own?
If your legs are of different lengths, you'll be literally off-kilter. When standing, one half of your pelvis will sit higher than the other and will likely be tilted anteriorly or posteriorly depending on how you compensate. This will side bend the spine which will reduce the functional abilities of your lower back muscles and abdominals.
Picking up heavy objects, playing sports involving twisting motions (e.g. [insert any sport here]), and just stooping down in the garden might start feeling dangerous.
In a case of leg length discrepancy, we want to address muscle imbalances that result from the uneven gait (and other activities). Teaching the muscles to act more symmetrically can help restore a sense of balance, alignment, and strength.
One big hurdle is knowing whether you have a real leg bone length difference or not. There are two scenarios to keep in mind.
If the leg bones are actually significantly asymmetrical in length, then that is always going to affect how you stand and walk, if you do not use some external implements (like orthotics or built up soles) to even things out. If you do not do something even it out, you will need to make sure you regularly do targeted exercise to keep things within a tolerable range of asymmetry. If things get too out of whack, muscles will start locking down.
This is often called a "functional leg length discrepancy."
For many people, an apparent leg length difference is the result of a small bone length difference (or none) that appears much worse because asymmetrical muscle activity is twisting and holding the pelvis in a twist and/or tilt.
Put another way, muscles around the spine, pelvis, and legs could make someone with absolutely zero bone length difference appear to have a leg length difference. If those muscles hold your pelvis in an asymmetrical position, your legs will appear asymmetrical.
The danger for the average person is that many health professionals do not acknowledge that the second situation is even a possibility and rush to treat everyone as if they all have bone length issues.
In our opinion, whether your bones are different or not, the solution is mostly the same.
Someone who has an apparent leg length discrepancy should be doing exercises to normalize spine, pelvis, and leg position. This improves your quality of life on any metric and is well worth the effort.
And it will make it easier to determine if the leg length discrepancy is truly a result of bone length differences because it removes the muscular issues from the equation.
For some exercise ideas, check out this video:
If you want to try to assess your bone lengths, then you can do visual checks of the femur length and tibia length while kneeling, seated, and lying down.
You need to also ensure that no compensations in the pelvis and spine position while you check this. It's very helpful for someone else to check this for you. This site has a great breakdown of how to check for leg length differences.
If it turns out that you do have a significant leg bone difference, then you'll probably want to figure out how to compensate for that in your footwear without stiffening up the sole of your shoes too much (as that will atrophy your foot and ankle muscles). We don't make this recommendation lightly, as we are strong proponents of avoiding crutches of any kind, but in this case it seems warranted.