Limb Deformity and Limb Length Discrepancy

Multidisciplinary Approach to Diagnose and Treat Limb and Length Disorders

Loyola Medicine’s highly skilled, integrated orthopaedic surgical team is experienced in treating limb deformity and limb length discrepancy

Limb deformity most commonly occurs in children, with conditions such as bow legs (also called Blount’s disease) and knock knees. Limb deformity can also occur in children or adults as the result of an infection or a fracture that doesn’t heal properly. While some conditions typically resolve themselves as a child grows, some limb conditions affect walking if not treated. 

Limb length discrepancy (LLD) is a type of deformity seen when the upper or lower part of the arms or legs are different lengths. A discrepancy in the length of arms usually causes little or no problem for patients. However, leg length differences of 3.5 to 4 percent of the total length of the leg may cause noticeable abnormalities when walking. 

Limb length discrepancies can be caused by bone injuries that heal in a shortened position, more often occurring following complex or open fractures. Other causes of limb length discrepancies include bone infections or bone diseases such as neurofibromatosis or Ollier’s disease. 

Why Choose Loyola for Treatment of Limb Deformity and Limb Length Discrepancy?

Loyola’s orthopaedic team takes a multidisciplinary approach to caring for patients with limb deformities and limb length discrepancies, bringing together the expertise of sports medicine specialists and radiologists, as well as surgical experts uniquely skilled at acute trauma care and limb lengthening procedures.

How is Limb Deformity and Limb Length Discrepancy Diagnosed?

To measure limb length discrepancy, your Loyola doctor will measure your hips while you’re standing barefoot. Then he or she will place a series of measured blocks under the shorter leg until the hips are even. X-rays may also provide a more precise measurement. 

In growing children, your doctor will take repeated measurements as the child grows. A limb length discrepancy also may be detected on a screening exam for scoliosis (curvature of the spine).

How is Limb Deformity and Limb Length Discrepancy Treated?

The orthopaedic team at Loyola uses the full range of treatment options to help patients with limb deformity or a limb length discrepancy, including:

  • Correction of angular and rotational deformities
  • Correction of contractures
  • Limb reconstruction, including lengthening and shortening
  • Orthotics
  • Prosthetics
  • Skin grafts and soft tissue flaps
  • Tendon transfers
  • Treatment of nonunions and malunions 
  • Treatment of osteomyelitis and bone deficits

Loyola offers treatment of limb length discrepancies and limb deformities using the internal lengthening nail PRECICE. This method of treatment eliminates a patient's need for external fixation to achieve correction.

Limb reconstruction may be performed with a technique that involves lengthening a bone segment. This procedure, which works on a principle known as distraction osteogenesis, is used to replace missing bone or to lengthen or straighten deformed bone segments. A cut is made in the bone, and metal pins or screws are placed through the skin and into the bone, just above and below the cut. An external or internal metal device pulls apart two bone segments four times a day. New bone tissue grows in the space at a rate of approximately one millimeter per day.

Limb length discrepancies in children are sometimes treated by preventing the longer limb from growing, giving the shorter limb a chance to “catch up” in length. Your Loyola healthcare team will work with you to determine the best course of treatment for your particular case.