Recovering from a fractured femur takes perseverance and patience. Not only can this injury cause leg pain, stiffness or weakness, but you may find one leg is shorter after a hip fracture. Gaining a proper understanding of this side effect will allow it to treat it appropriately.
Why Is a Leg Shorter After a Hip Fracture?
The femur, which runs from your hip to your knee, is the longest and strongest bone in the body, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS). Yet certain traumatic events, like a car crash or a fall from a tall height, may cause a break or fracture in the bone.
While there are many different types of femur fractures, one common side effect that may occur after this kind of injury is a leg length discrepancy. This issue may be due to the intricacy of perfectly restoring a bone's precise length after a complex fracture. It may also affect kids who experience a femur fracture — if the break happens over their growth plate.
There are no specific exercises for when one leg is shorter after a fracture. However, balanced strengthening may help prevent the pain and disability associated with this condition.
In general, leg length discrepancy can be seen in up to 43 percent of individuals with this type of injury, according to a small study published in Orthopaedic Proceedings in February 2018. Depending on the difference in length between the two legs, the discrepancy may cause several ongoing issues.
Treat Your Symptoms
Many healthy adults have a small difference in length between their two legs. However, if you are left with one leg shorter after a fracture, you may need to seek specific treatment. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons reports that people with a difference in leg length greater than 3.5 to 4 percent may be left with a limp while they walk.
This deficit may cause you to tire more easily while going about your normal day. Additionally, individuals with one leg longer than the other after surgery may have a higher risk of developing low back pain.
Read more: Exercises to Avoid If You Have Hip Pain
Correcting leg length discrepancy in adults isn't always an easy thing to do. In certain cases, a shoe lift can be utilized in the shorter leg to add height and reduce the side-to-side difference.
Unfortunately, this may not be enough, and more invasive surgical procedures may be necessary to either lengthen the shorter leg or shorten the non-fractured side, according to the International Center for Limb Lengthening.
Harness the Power of Exercise
There are no specific exercises for correcting leg length discrepancy in adults after a femur fracture. The AAOS recommends focusing on hip-strengthening exercises to help lessen the weakness that may occur after this type of injury.
To get started with working out your hips, the American Council on Exercise suggests several different strengthening exercises.
The glute bridge is a good beginner technique to target your butt, hips and core muscles. To focus on the outside hip region, try resting on your good side and performing side-lying hip abduction. Front squats or step-ups can help strengthen your thigh (quadriceps) muscles, so include them in your routine.
Read more: Leg Strength Test
Try starting with two or three sets of eight to 10 repetitions and perform these exercises two to three times per week. It is also important to communicate with your physical therapist or doctor after a femur fracture as you may need to temporarily avoid higher impact activities like running or jumping. Stop any activity or exercises that cause additional pain and discomfort.
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: “Femur Shaft Fractures (Broken Thighbone)”
- Orthopaedic Proceedings: “Leg Length Discrepancy After Comminuted Femoral Shaft Fractures Treated With Intramedullary Nailing”
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: "Limb Length Discrepancy”
- International Center for Limb Lengthening: "Limb Length Discrepancy”
- American Council on Exercise: “Butt and Hip Exercises”
- American Council on Exercise: "Glute Bridge"
- American Council on Exercise: "Side Lying Hip Abduction"
- American Council on Exercise: "Front Squat"
- American Council on Exercise: "Step-Ups"