Having Shorter Leg Ups Arthritis Risk
Study Shows Even Small Difference in Leg Length Increases Disease Risk and Severity
WebMD News Archive
Nov. 14, 2006 (Washington, D.C.) -- Having one leg shorter than the other
may increase a person's risk of developing arthritis in a knee or hip,
according to a study presented today at the American College of Rheumatology's
2006 annual meeting in Washington, D.C.
People with a leg length difference of as little as 2 centimeters --
four-fifths of an inch -- were more likely to have osteoarthritis in their right hip or their left
or right knee. They were also more likely to have more severe arthritis, the
Often referred to as the "wear-and-tear" form of the disease,
osteoarthritis (OA) affects nearly 21 million people in the U.S.
It is characterized by the breakdown of the joints' cartilage, the lining
that cushions the ends of bones and allows for easy joint movement.
Breakdown of this cartilage leaves the bones to rub against each other,
resulting in pain, stiffness, and loss of movement in the affected joint,
according to the Atlanta-based Arthritis Foundation.
"The findings from this study may help us predict who may develop
osteoarthritis and who may have symptoms that worsen, or have a potential risk
of increased disability," study researcher Joanne M. Jordan, MD, MPH, says
in a news release.
"Studies to test whether correction of leg length inequality with
orthotics or shoe lifts can prevent the onset of osteoarthritis, or its
progression, would be a logical next step," adds Jordan, who is an
associate professor of medicine and orthopaedics at the University of North
Carolina Thurston Arthritis Research Center in Chapel Hill.
Hip, Knees Affected
Jordan's study looked at 3,161 people enrolled in the Johnston County
Of these participants, 1,785 had hip or knee osteoarthritis and 210 of them
had legs of different lengths.
Overall, 45% of those with differing leg lengths had knee osteoarthritis,
compared with only 29% without a length difference. Increased occurrence for
hip osteoarthritis was less dramatic - 32.5% versus 26% for those with and
without a leg length difference, respectively.
Leg length discrepancy was equally common among men and women, blacks and
The location of the osteoarthritis did not appear to be driven by which was
the longer or shorter limb.
"Recognizing that leg length inequality has a significant association
with hip and, particularly, knee osteoarthritis opens the door to more studies
on whether leg length variances might cause the development and progression of
the disease," Jordan says.
Findings 'Make Sense'
Robert L. Wortmann, MD, professor and chairman of the department of
rheumatology at the University of Oklahoma in Tulsa, tells WebMD the new
findings make sense and may have implications for prevention of
"If you have any injury to a joint, you get osteoarthritis in that
joint," he explains. Differing leg lengths also tax the body.
"When your legs are not the same length, the body compensates, which
alters the stress across the joints and promotes OA," he says. Basically,
the body adjusts itself to compensate for anything that disturbs normal
"The treatment for leg length discrepancy is to add a leg lift to the
shoes so legs are the same length," he says. "If people are identified
early and treated with a shoe lift, they may not develop OA."