Limb-Length Discrepancy and Limb Differences

Gillette has one of the largest pediatric orthopedic groups in the country. Our Center for Pediatric Orthopedics offers comprehensive diagnosis, treatment and management of limb-length discrepancies and limb differences for infants, children and teens.

By providing care in a family-centered environment, we help our patients achieve their highest possible levels of independence, comfort and happiness.

Why Choose Gillette?

  • Gillette is one of the nation’s Best Children’s Hospitals in pediatric orthopedics.
  • We offer one of the nation’s highest concentrations of orthopedic surgeons who focus on the needs of children—experts who specialize in typical and atypical growth and development.
  • Our skilled surgeons and nurse practitioners are experts in diagnosing and managing limb-length conditions, both congenital and acquired.
  • We offer facilities and technology designed specifically for people who have limb-length conditions and disabilities.

Definition

Limb-length discrepancies or differences are conditions that result in limbs that are unequal in length or that exhibit other anomalies. The conditions occur when bones or joints in the arms or legs are abnormal or become damaged. Providers might refer to these conditions as limb-length discrepancies, limb differences or limb-length conditions.


Causes of Limb-Length Conditions

Limb-length conditions can result from:

  • Congenital disorders of the bones, muscles or joints
  • Disuse or overuse of the bones, muscles or joints caused by illness or disease
  • Diseases, such as bone cancer
  • Issues of the spine, shoulder or hip
  • Traumatic injuries, such as severe fractures that damage growth plates

Symptoms and Effects of Limb-Length Conditions

Children whose limbs vary in length often experience difficulty using their arms or legs. They might have difficulty walking or using both arms to engage in everyday activities.


Diagnosing Limb-Length Conditions

Infants, children or adolescents suspected of having a limb-length condition should receive an evaluation at the first sign of difficulty in using their arms or legs. In many cases, signs are subtle and only noticeable in certain situations, such as when buying clothing or playing sports. 

Proper initial assessments by qualified pediatric orthopedic providers can reduce the likelihood of long-term complications and increase the likelihood that less invasive management will be effective. In most cases, very mild limb length discrepancies require no formal treatment at all.


Treatments for Limb-Length Conditions

Treatments for limb-length discrepancies and differences vary, depending on the cause and severity of the condition. At Gillette, our orthopedic surgeons are experts in typical and atypical growth and development. Our expertise lets us plan treatments that offer a lifetime of benefits.

Treatments might include monitoring growth and development, providing noninvasive treatments or therapy, and providing a combination of orthopedic surgical procedures.

To date, alternative treatments (such as chiropractic care or physical therapy) have not measurably altered the progression of or improved limb-length conditions. However, children often have physical or occupational therapy to address related conditions, such as muscle weakness or inflexibility, or to speed recovery following a surgical procedure.

Observation and Noninvasive Treatments

In cases where surgical treatment isn’t necessary, our orthopedists may monitor patients and plan noninvasive treatments, such as:

Surgical Treatment

Surgical treatments vary in complexity. Sometimes the goal of surgery is to stop the growth of the longer limb. Other times, surgeons work to lengthen the shorter limb.

Gillette’s orthopedic surgeons may treat children who have limb-length conditions with one or a combination of these surgical techniques:

  • Bone resection: An operation to remove a section of bone, evening out the limbs in teens or adults who are no longer growing
  • Epiphyseal stapling: An operation to slow the rate of growth of the longer limb by inserting staples into the growth plate, then removing them when the desired result is achieved
  • Epiphysiodesis: An operation to slow the rate of growth of the longer limb by creating a permanent bony ridge near the growth plate.
  • Limb lengthening: A procedure (also called distraction osteogenesis or the Ilizarov procedure) that involves attaching an internal or external fixator to a limb and gradually pulling apart bone segments to grow new bone between them.

Our pediatric orthopedic surgeons are experts at planning treatments that meet each patient’s needs and goals.

For more information about the treatments we offer at Gillette, search Conditions and Care.


Our Services for Limb-Length Conditions

Our Center for Pediatric Orthopedics offers fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeons who specialize in caring for children, along with a vast team of experts in a variety of specialties. Together, we offer comprehensive treatment plans that produce stellar outcomes for our patients.

Specialties and services most often involved in care for limb-length conditions include:

We also work closely with primary care providers, teachers, and school and community therapists. Our goal is to support patients and their families with a family-centered team.

For more information about Gillette’s comprehensive services, search Conditions and Care.

Why Gillette?

Because all children deserve a lifetime of amazing health care.

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