Limb length inequality: clinical implications for assessment and intervention

J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2003 May;33(5):221-34. doi: 10.2519/jospt.2003.33.5.221.


The purpose of this paper is to review relevant literature concerning limb length inequalities in adults and to make recommendations for assessment and intervention based on the literature and our own clinical experience. Literature searches were conducted in the MEDLINE, PubMed, and CINAHL databases. Limb length inequality and common classification criteria are defined and etiological factors are presented. Common methods of detecting limb length inequality include direct (tape measure methods), indirect (pelvic leveling), and radiological techniques. Interventions include shoe inserts or external shoe lift therapy for mild cases. Surgery may be appropriate in severe cases. Little agreement exists regarding the prevalence of limb length inequality, the degree of limb length inequality that is considered clinically significant, and the reliability and validity of assessment methods. Based on correlational studies, the relationship between limb length inequality and orthopaedic pathologies is questionable. Stronger support for the link between low back pain (LBP) and limb length inequality is provided by intervention studies. Methods involving palpation of pelvic landmarks with block correction have the most support for clinical assessment of limb length inequality. Standing radiographs are suggested when clinical assessment methods are unsatisfactory. Clinicians should exercise caution when undertaking intervention strategies for limb length inequality of less than 5 mm when limb length inequality has been identified with clinical techniques. Recommendations are provided regarding intervention strategies.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Body Weights and Measures / methods
  • Humans
  • Leg / diagnostic imaging
  • Leg Length Inequality / classification
  • Leg Length Inequality / diagnosis*
  • Leg Length Inequality / epidemiology
  • Leg Length Inequality / therapy*
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / complications
  • Orthopedic Equipment
  • Orthopedic Procedures / methods
  • Orthotic Devices
  • Pelvis / diagnostic imaging
  • Pelvis / physiopathology
  • Prevalence
  • Radiography
  • Shoes
  • Treatment Outcome
  • United States / epidemiology