Written by Alastair Sherlock, Osteopath

20 Mar 2023

If one leg is shorter than the other, this condition is called leg length discrepancy. It is relatively common and affects many adolescents. Learn more from Alastair Sherlock on how osteopathy can help to relieve symptoms related to this condition.

Around the onset of puberty a series of growth spurts initiates that eventually brings us to our full adult height. This happens typically between the ages of 13 to 18 years but can be 12 to 20 in some individuals.

There seems to be a discrepancy that develops in our teenage years. The right femur (thigh bone) in right handed people and vice versa for the left is usually shorter by 2-3 mm, and is typically more pronounced the more active and engaged in sporting activities an individual is. This results in extra pressure in the right hip and lower back, the body responding with a muscular reaction that amplifies its effects. In 90% of the symptomatic issues in adults that I see lead to either directly or as a major component in impaired healing (ankle, knee, lower back, thoracic and rib, neck pain, headaches, jaw issues, sinus congestion).

I treated many adolescents with some of the above mentioned symptoms and upon asking the parents, unsurprisingly, the problem developed at the same time as the growth spurts. Tracing the issue to a mild overdevelopment of musculature on the dominant side, first I had to address the symptoms (pain and its immediate cause)  and then teach the patient to stretch causative areas. Most of them returned with equal leg lengths.  It took 18 months (less if caught early) of supervision every 6-10 weeks. As long as the leg condition is treated and adhered to until growth stops they should remain that way for life and avoid most of the unnecessary sprains that I see in adults. 

After 18 – 19 years of age we remain with this discrepancy but that’s not to say there isn’t help for those for whom it was too late to address. In my adult patient I always teach how the patient can self address thereby avoiding future recurrence.  

If you need help with this condition, make an appointment with Alastair here.