Friday, July 25, 2008
HA! I Think I have a Double Leg Length Discrepency!
This will be one of the strangest posts I make, particularly if you have read about the different strategies I have tried to recover my stride.
Back in junior high school I was diagnosed with a leg length discrepancy. The doctors followed my growth through high school and even wanted to operate at one point to stop the growth in my left leg to let the right one catch up. They did do this operation to my older brother but not to me!
Now before I get on with today's story, I was talking to my dad the other day on the phone. He enjoys tennis as much as I enjoy running. He likes to play in local tournaments with much younger players. He has remained surprisingly injury free for being over 75 years old and playing tennis for many decades. However the past couple of years he had an Achilles problem, then plantar fasciatis, and now he said he knee is hurting a bit. So he went to a podiatrist (and no, he is not into fixing problems or trying to understanding sports medicine like I do) and he told me that the podiatrist told him he had a leg length discrepancy. He said that was the first he heard of that, but told her that his two sons had that issue and that one even had surgery to correct it. She wanted to know who did the surgery and asked what they did. When he said this was through the Boston Children's Hospital and told her about my brother's surgery, she rolled up her pants leg to show him her scars on either side of her knee. She had had the same surgery my brother had many years ago!
Anyhow my right leg was the one diagnosed as the short leg and it was supposedly almost 1/2 inch shorter than my left leg when last diagnosed back in high school. The past few weeks I have been playing around with a heel lift in that right shoe. At first it felt great. I had almost a week of wonderfully balanced runs, but since that time it has been slowly unraveling. My left leg is doing strange rotations, my hips are rotating without pain but not in the same way on each side and I keep feeling like I need more lift in the right shoe.
Today I went for my longest run of the year. I could not get my legs right. True my left hip was not jamming up, but I was out of balance and fighting myself the whole way. I got halfway into the run and decided to try something radical that I had been thinking about. I took the lift out of my right shoe and put it in my left shoe. All of a sudden I felt more balanced again and my left leg was bending and working better. I wasn't sure how long it would last before I would feel a pain, or something wrong but that didn't happen and I completed my run of a little more than 15 miles. The second half felt so much better than the first. What in the world is going on here?
One thing I have learned is that my body adjusts to all sorts of strange positions and strides. Some people run with perfect form and if one little thing is altered they end up injured. I have horrible form but somehow I adjust to all sorts of imbalances and keep running. Last year I started calling new things I try as I run "distractions" because I will try something new and it will feel good for a day or week and then things will fall apart and it won't work anymore. I think my body gets fooled by distractions and runs better for a while before getting to a place where the distraction does not work. That may be what happened today. My body got distracted by a new running position and it felt good while my body tried to adjust or maybe just maybe.... I have two short legs!!!!!
Actually don't laugh too hard at that because listen to this. Back about 18 years ago (yes I have been fighting this stuff for a long time) I had a doctor x-ray my legs while lying down. I heard this was the only way to truly test a leg length discrepancy and what I was told when I was done was that one leg had a longer femur than the other, and that the other leg had longer lower leg bones. When they did the calculations the both sides together were not off by that much. It wasn't the nearly half-inch that I had been told. However (and I would like to find the results- I think I saved them somewhere) that could mean that when standing my right leg is the short leg (I do feel so much better with the heel lift in my right shoe when standing or walking around). But maybe just maybe my left leg acts as the short leg when running, possibly because when running the dynamics is changed because my knees are bent and the way the differences between lower leg and upper leg lengths are altered in a running stride.
Maybe that explains why pictures of me running show my left side (the one I was told is longer is always collapsed down) and I feel like I always have to hike up the leg to run. It may also explain why my right shoulder is always higher or why I had one massage therapist who used to force my left side's rib cage higher because it was lower than the other side. Then there was the chiropractor a few years ago who took an x-ray of my pelvis with a heel lift under my short leg. When he added height to the heel lift on my right side then the leg length difference seemed even more pronounced. He kept staring at the results and couldn't figure out why a leg lift made that short leg appear even shorter. Finally he abandonded what he was trying to do and just forgot about it because he was too confused!
Or I could just be full of beans, but I do know this: at least for one day it helped me run more smoothly and I made it through my longest run of the year.
Maybe my new strategy should be to alternate which shoe gets the heel lift and just remain distracted and running free.