Sunday, April 11, 2010
Short Leg Treatment: Shoe Lifts
Most patients have a short leg, either structurally or functionally. A structural short leg is true length difference of the bones, where a functional short leg may be caused by many factors including one arch lower than the other side. As long as one arch collapses more than the other side, the short leg syndrome exists.
Most people have one foot longer than the other, but the long foot may or may not be on the long leg. Remember you are taught to buy shoes always for the longer side (longer foot). If you wear out one shoe more than the other, either by observing the heel of the outersole or the footbed within the shoe, you can tell that one leg may be shorter. Orthopedists normally do not recommend treatment unless over 1/2". Podiatrists have observed that as little as 1/8" difference in leg lengths can cause symptoms. By treating these small differences, and having patients report positive outcomes, leg length discrepancies are a vital part of care.
Treatment of leg length discrepancies is with various types of lifts under the short leg. The photo above shows a shoe with a full length external or outersole lift of 3/8". Due to the swelling in his foot, this patient could not tolerate any lifts within the shoe. Full length lifts, whether within the shoe or on the outer sole, are normally so much more stable than just heel lifts. Heel lifts alone can create a high heel effect with more instability. Also, a heel lift alone can be compensated for with mere bending of the knee negating the desired lift height. So, I love full length lifts and try to always start with these in my treatment. A future post will explore this treatment in detail.
Most athletic shoes can accommodate up to 3/8" lifts. All patients should have a trial of lift therapy with shoe inserts with positive results before external shoe lifts are utilized. Most shoe repair shops can put on external lifts, but there may be one in your area that specializes. Ask around for referrals from local orthopedic or podiatry offices. The external lift must be tapered at the toes, and somewhat flexible at the ball of the foot, to allow the patient to walk smoothly from heel to toe.
The Golden Rule of Foot with lift therapy: Start Low, Go Slow. Normally, if the difference is 3/8" total, 1/8" lift is given for 2weeks, then another 1/8" lift for 2 more weeks, then finally the full 3/8". As you go up in lift therapy, blame any new symptoms on the added lift, take out the additional lift until the new symptoms subside, then try again. Some patients are stuck for one reason or another at one level of lift. Their bodies will reject the higher amounts.
There seems to be more stress on the body when the exact same lift is placed on the outersole as was originally used as an insert. It probably weighs slightly more, or effects the motion around heel strike more. To lessen this change, which may cause symptoms itself, place 1/2 of the overall lift in the opposite shoe as an insert initially. Two weeks later, take 1/2 of that away, then finally 2 weeks later take it all away so you are left with just the desired outersole lift. This eases the process dramatically, allowing the body to relax more in making this big change. Good luck!!