by Sylvia Skefich D.C.
Many of you have been to a chiropractor who finds a “short leg,” and then corrects it during the course of your visit. The “functional short leg” is a phenomena of muscle tension that draws up one leg making it appear short (by measure at the heels) with the patient lying down.
What causes it? You might imagine someone on a starting line getting ready to take off; This is the fight-or-flight pose. We are in some state of readiness due to our thoughts, emotions and environment most of the time. The chiropractor is trained to identify the signs of this windup (the functional short leg being one). There are numerous styles and techniques within chiropractic that bring the body and the nervous system into a more relaxed state of being.
There’s another kind of “short leg,” called an “anatomical,” or “true” short leg. This refers to a boney difference in the leg lengths. There are orthopedic tests that give an indication of this difference, however they are not entirely accurate. A chiropractic diagnostic of the anatomical short leg should include these considerations: orthopedic tests, pelvis and spine evaluation, assessment of the feet, and lumbo pelvic x-rays. Before a heel lift is prescribed and utilized, you want to be absolutely sure that you have a true short leg.
The pelvic and spine evaluation is useful in determining if there are findings that many people with a short leg have in common. One of those finding is a scoliotic-“S” curvature in the spine….If the foundation of the pelvis of off-level, then the spine has to compensate to right itself. Other findings include: locked-up sacro-iliac joint(s); and a pelvis that is misaligned in a side-rotation which is far less common than other pelvic rotations.
The feet also compensate when there is an anatomical short leg. Frequently one foot will be larger, or will be noticeably supinated (cocked inward at the ankle). The lumbo-pelvic x-rays must be taken standing up. They may reveal height difference at the top of the ball-and-socket joints. The x-rays may show a tilted sacrum bone. Also, lumbar spine curvature is usually visible. Like many conditions, a proper diagnosis of the anatomical short leg requires a consideration of many signs that, as a whole, point toward the same conclusion.
Why be concerned? Most people to whom I prescribe a heel lift have a chronic, recurring pain that never fully responds to treatment as expected. The pain is commonly at the front hip crease, on the rear sacro-iliac joint, or in the shoulder region, but can be anywhere on the body. The pain worsens with upright activities. The pain frequently does not occur until the person is in their thirties or fourties, but can be experienced at any age. People who have the skeletal compensations of an anatomical short leg are prone to osteoarthritis as they age due to structural strain. The heel lift can alleviate the progression of degeneration.
Sylvia Skefich is a Doctor of Chiropractic. She is located at 920 41st Ave. Ste. G, Santa Cruz 95062. 831-475-1995 www.vital-you.com