The Crazy Truth About Leg-Length Differences

Did you know that approximately 90% of us have a leg-length difference? This is nothing to be afraid of, however. In reality, it’s quite the opposite as leg-length differences are seldom serious. For all you active people out there, inequality in the legs is rarely an issue for performance and long-term health. Let this be yet another reminder to never caught up in the myths circulating on the internet.

As a personal trainer and kinesiologist, I’ve run into several clients and fellow health professionals who have blown anatomical imbalances way out of proportion. This includes sites at the shoulders, spine, hips, and of course, legs. Unfortunately, when we begin to exaggerate the impact of ‘imbalances’, we start creating an unhealthy dialogue with ourselves. As a result, fear-avoidance behavior starts and we forget just how robust and resilient the human body is.

The last thing we need is to unnecessarily drop out of physical activity based on inaccurate health advice. However imbalanced you may feel, 9 times out of 10 more physical activity will equate to better outcomes. When we zoom in on the specific issue of leg-length differences, this rings true even more.

3 Leg-Length Myths That Need To Go

Before we dive in, please know that rare cases around leg length do exist. If you think your situation is more severe, please contact your health provider and get a proper diagnosis before going any further with physical activity. With that out of the way, let’s address 3 myths that need to be erased!

1) Any Level of Leg Imbalance Is Serious

As mentioned above, research shows that 90% of us have some level of anatomical inequality at the legs. The mean magnitude of this imbalance is 5.2mm and only cases beyond 20mm (extremely unlikely) are associated with pain. Not only are leg imbalances very common, but they’re also rarely clinically significant. This means that the great majority of us can be confident in pain-free physical activity.

Whenever we’re fearful around imbalances or injuries at musculoskeletal sites, our first instinct is often to remove impact activity. While this may be relevant in certain situations, it’s usually a poor strategy for rehab and general health. If you haven’t run into any problems yet, just keep doing what you’re doing!

2) Leg Length Can Be Measured With a Tape Measure

Please, please don’t try and assess your leg length by yourself. This is completely inaccurate and can lead to poor measurements that can cause unnecessary concern. If you haven’t gotten a proper x-ray performed by a professional, you haven’t had a leg-length measurement. It’s that simple.

An even more important point is how unnecessary this test is for 99% of us. If you have no pain or discomfort, it’s not worth your time to identify if you have a leg-length difference or not. More often or not, getting into the nitty-gritty of our anatomical imbalances does us more harm than good. The brain has a way of blowing regular results out of proportion, so just let it be and keep doing the activities that you love.

3) Surgery Is Absolutely Necessary

For the very small minority that has an imbalance beyond 20mm, surgery should never be the #1 solution. If your health professional knows what they’re doing, they’ll prescribe you an easy-install insole or heel lift. This is placed in the shorter leg to create a more balanced environment for the legs/hips. This solution is almost always effective, so please don’t jump into the deep end and request surgery unless it’s absolutely required. I can’t emphasize this enough!

Bonus Tips! Leg-length inequality is very different from leg instability. While anatomical imbalances are rarely an issue, leg weakness due to poor training habits can be negatively affecting your performance and health. If you struggle with lower body strength and stability, here are 3 habits to consider picking up:

  1. Start doing light lower-body strength exercises 2x / week to compliment your running. Don’t know where to start? I have you covered here.

  2. Invest in a proper pair of running shoes that will give you the support you need. Commit to taking the extra step of going into a running store and seeking out a professional who can give you an official gait analysis.

  3. Do light mobility exercises 2–3x / week. Oftentimes, pain and instability can be rooted in a lack of mobility. This can be easily fixed if you work on improving your range of motion. Looking for an easy routine? I have a great one for you here.

In Closing,

Leg-length differences are extremely common, but that is no reason to fret. Only 1 in every 1000 people have a severe enough case to warrant professional attention. Even then, sustainable solutions can be applied outside of surgery. Let this be a message of hope! You’re free to move and perform all activities of life, regardless if you’re in ‘good alignment’ or not. For far too long, we’ve had a fearful perspective on bodily imbalances, but they’re very natural and more often than not, completely irrelevant to your training abilities.

At the end of the day, nobody is perfect… so let’s stop creating an unrealistic standard of alignment. Leg-length difference or not, live in the freedom that you can move pain-free!