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Chiropractic has been around for over 100 years now, so I often see patients who have seen at least one other doctor of chiropractic in their lifetime. They want to make sure I know everything I can in order to help them with their condition. My patients will often say, “Doc, you should know that I have a short leg.”. But, what does it really mean to have a “short leg”? Is it really that one leg is longer than the other, and what does that have to do with your low back pain?

First, let’s describe the 2 types of “short legs”. One, is called a “functional short leg”. This is often seen when a patient is laying on the adjusting table, and one foot appears to be above or below another. It’s not that the leg itself is actually shorter or longer. Uneven muscle tone in the low back can hike one hip up or down, causing one like to “pull up” short. The significance of this is the subject of much debate among chiropractors and researchers.

The second, and far more relevant, is the “anatomical short leg”. This is when one leg is actually a different length than the other. This can be due to one of the leg bones (Tibia or Femur) having grown longer on one side, due to a childhood injury or simple genetics. Dr. Friberg, MD, found that in nearly 75% of low back pain patients had a leg length inequality of 5mm or more. Even 43% of the patients with no low back pain had the same leg length inequality.

There are many other variables to consider when it comes to leg length inequality. Factors like degenerative joint disease, fallen arches and genetic spinal deformities can all contribute to this condition that causes a leg to be “shorter”, and a significant number of people to needlessly suffer from low back pain. This is why it’s so important to see a spinal specialist when it comes to low back pain. Chiropractors are specifically trained to get to the root cause, instead of simply writing your pain off as a “low back sprain, requiring medication”. I’ve never met someone suffering from low back pain because they were deficient in Aspirin. However, I have seen a significant number of my patients being treated for low back pain and degenerative disc disease for years due to a leg that was simply not as long as the one next to it.

Like a wobbly table at a restaurant, eventually someone’s got to get to the root of the problem and simply put a matchbook under the short leg so everyone can eat without spilling their soup. We call that matchbook a “foot lift” or a “heel lift”. By evening out the legs, we remove stress on the spine, and add years to its life. It’s a low tech fix to simple, but often overlooked cause of low back pain.

Dr. Aaron L. Wiegand, DC, CCST