Post hip surgery, one leg is shorter than the other

Dear Dr. Roach: Four years ago, my wife had hip surgery caused by a fall. About eight months after the surgery, she noticed her left leg was 3 inches shorter that her right one. Her doctor agreed it was shorter and said that does happen frequently. She must use a cane to walk and is now in a lot of pain just walking in a market or around the house. Is it common for this type of disability to be caused by hip surgery? Is there any type of procedure to correct it? What can be done to alleviate the pain and discomfort from this injury?

— G.W.

Dear G.W.: Up to a quarter of people will have a change in the length of the leg after hip replacement surgery. I’m not sure that’s what your wife had, but that’s a common surgery after a fall.

Dr. Keith Roach

A “significant” difference in the length of the two legs is one that causes symptoms; some surgeons use 2 centimeters. Your wife has a difference of almost 9 centimeters. I don’t know whether she had a difference before the fall (some people do and never notice), but if this is new since surgery, treatment is best sooner rather than later.

She should have a careful measurement of the length of the legs. This is harder than it seems, and often a patient’s measurement is inexact. A shoe lift can be made to correct the length discrepancy. Since it has been so long since surgery, many experts do not attempt to correct the entire difference. However, with treatment, she should have better movement and less pain. She should see her orthopedic surgeon.