Leg Length and Back Pain – Is There a Connection?

Sometimes the popular press is ahead of medical practice. There was an article in Vogue magazine last month entitled “Uneven Ground” which the sub-headline describes as, “slight imbalances in our bodies alignment could be the culprit behind back pain, according to a persuasive new school of thought.”

Back Pain
The article states the obvious fact that people are not totally symmetrical. According to one of the largest studies of body and balance, in about 32% of people, one leg is 1/5 to 3/5 of an inch longer than the other. I have seen quotes from other sources that say approximately 95% of people have at least 1 cm difference between one leg and the other. (Somehow the studies in centimeters seem more scientific – don’t they?) Anyway, these leg length differences this can mean actual bone length differences but more commonly it is the joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments which are stretched or contracted to cause a functional leg length discrepancy rather than an actual discrepancy.

Leg length discrepancy has been associated with back pain for many years. A recent study also found that almost 50% of knee pain in women is associated with foot problems. Now some of these problems are related to leg length discrepancy and are caused by imbalances in the foot — almost like an out of balance tire on a car which causes the whole car to shimmy.

Now why do I say that the popular press is sometimes ahead of medical practice? That is because it seems that so few podiatrists check for leg length differences. This is an easy test that we always perform. In my office we watch people walk, and then we watch people stand with a half inch raise under the right foot then the left foot. We look at the balance of the body and can get a pretty good idea of a functional or structural leg length discrepancy. Is it 100% foolproof? Absolutely not! But it’s better than a hunch and we’ve performed this test on so many people that we are pretty good at it. If we find a leg length discrepancy we put a little lift in the shoe of the short leg. You would absolutely be amazed at how many times people return telling us that their hip or knee pain or back pain is much better from this very simple little treatment. If the lift is annoying or not helpful we just tell people to throw it out and forget about it.

We have also seen stretching, yoga, and especially chiropractic adjustments to be very helpful for leg length discrepancy problems.

If you’re unbalanced don’t worry about it. A leg length imbalance is a simple thing to correct and it may be a simple answer to nagging knee, hip, or back problems. Give us a call if you’d like to have your leg length analyzed.