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News in Brief
ACA Adopts New Governance Model; ACA 2017 Awards; CCA Helps Calif. DCs "Share the Love"; $1 Million to Help Advance the Profession; D'Youville Raises the Bar on Anatomy Education; ErRatum.
Clearing Blocks: A Way to Improve Cosmetic Acupuncture
As a Five Element acupuncturist who teaches facial acupuncture classes nationally, I was surprised to learn that one of the basic principles I was taught in school is unfamiliar to most acupuncturists.
Bill With Confidence: Learn What to Collect
Q: I am trying to understand what I may collect from my patient when there is insurance. Do I have to accept the amount allowed by the plan or may I collect up to my billed amount? Please note, I am not a member of any insurance plan.
An Integrated Approach to Chronic Pain
Findings from a unique Medicaid pilot project in Rhode Island involving high-use Medicaid recipients from two health plans were recently presented to the state's Department of Health, demonstrating stellar outcomes with regard to medication use, ER visits, health care costs and patient satisfaction.
Eczema & Acupuncture: A Sound Solution (Part 1)
Eczema affects approximately 3.5 percent of the global population and is one of the most common skin complaints seen by dermatologists.
The Visual Error Scoring System: A Concussion Tool
Postural stability and oculomotor function are the most easily recognized physical indicators of neurologic motor dysfunction associated with concussions.
Women's Hormones: A Western & Eastern Perspective
Sometimes it may seem that you require a degree in medicine to understand hormones and how they function.
New Relationships, Old Trauma: AOM & Other Healing Strategies
Being in love is one the most beautiful and enjoyable experiences. Most of us are willing to pay almost any price to have that experience, and still often find it elusive or fleeting. Navigating the ups and downs of loving relationships are often challenging — even for the most psychologically balanced among us.
Universal Design: Principles & Practice
In many respects, universal design serves as the core of ergonomics. It's also a good tool to use when designing a return-to-work program for injured and/or ill patients. Let's take a closer look at universal design and why it should matter to you and your patients.
Raditation & Your Smartphone: Is it Worth the Risk?
If radial arteries could talk (and in my experience they can to some extent), they would say, "Step away from the smartphone." At least that is the message I am receiving loud and clear as I feel the pulses of many patients.
Is It Time to Rethink Mental Illness? (Pt. 1)
Invariably, patients will ask their chiropractor about depression or various mental illnesses. Some practitioners will reflexively offer a cervical adjustment, suggest St. John's wort or contemplate a referral to a specialist.
Creating Good Business Buzz
What do patients really think about working with you? Rarely do you hear the whole truth. Those who improve may be candid in their gratitude.
An Unexpected Diagnosis: The Result of Lacking Communication
A couple years ago I had a case that showed me the importance of open communication between health practitioners. We need to show up with less fear, and let go of our judgments so we can do better for the patient.
Give Yourself the Digital Advantage
When you see this article in the print version of this issue and swear you read it already, don't be alarmed: you probably did. That's because by that time, the May issue will have been available online in digital format for three weeks.
Balancing Spring Challenges
As the winter months come to a close and warmer spring weather appears, patients may begin to present with new challenging pattern presentations.
A Major Role in Back Pain: The Multifidus
Back pain affects roughly 80 percent of the population at one time or another and is one of the leading causes of doctor visits.
Why I Quit Doing House Calls
My father was a chiropractor who did house calls, so when I became a DC, I figured doing house calls was part of the job. My March article recalled my experience as a small boy, accompanying my dad while he went to patients' homes to treat them.
Taking the Chiropractic Message to the Press
"There is no better place on earth to have a news event," the National Press Club boasts, and it's easy to understand why: Every year, the 108-year-old Washington, D.C.-based organization hosts countless press conferences on the hottest topics impacting America and often the world.
A Daily Strategy for Heavy-Metal Detox
In modern society, we are constantly exposed to heavy metals such as cadmium, lead and mercury. These heavy metals have no essential biochemical roles in our body, and conversely, can cause us a great deal of harm if they build up to toxic levels.
November, 2007, Vol. 07, Issue 11
Short Leg Syndrome: Part Two
By Erik Dalton, PhD
A highly debated postural issue begging for a logical explanation is the "short right-leg syndrome" (Fig. 1). Although an inferred awareness of right-sided limb-length shortness has existed for centuries, along with decades of published research, no one has provided a universally acceptable answer to two very important questions:
Let's begin by reviewing notable research regarding functional and structural short right legs and then discuss theories, assessments and corrections that help deal with this troublesome disorder.As Sir William Osler once stated, "In order to treat something, we must first be able to recognize it." Any attempt to tackle limb-length discrepancy and associated compensations, armed with inadequate evaluation tools, surely will lead to failure and frustration. In the absence of radiographic measurements, massage therapists must develop keen palpatory and visual skills for detecting osseous and soft-tissue dysfunction. Aberrant patterns are best identified and classified using the acronym ART: Asymmetry, Restriction of motion, and Tissue-texture abnormality. Although numerous tests and treatment modalities have proven successful in treating short legs and associated compensations, we'll focus on only a few fundamental myoskeletal techniques that add to your toolbox of touch.
Leg Length and Back Pain
In two exquisitely designed studies (1962 and 1983), Denslow and Chase measured leg-length discrepancy in 361 and 294 subjects presenting with low back pain.1 Using the most advanced radiographic technology currently available, their papers (published in the American Academy of Osteopathy) reported the following findings concerning limb-length discrepancy:
By comparing sagittal-plane femoral-head height and sacral base angulation (Fig. 3), the authors concluded that innominate bones rotate around the sacrum (iliosacral tilt). Transverse plane images revealed that the pelvis also can rotate as a block around the vertical lumbar spine. Denslow and Chase's pioneering work helped biomedical researchers understand how shortened limbs torsion the pelvis, creating painful lumbar compensations. Their data not only confirmed leg-length findings conducted by previous researchers but also prompted new, more sophisticated imaging studies. In 2004, John H. Juhl, DO, reported that 68 percent of 421 low back pain patients presented radiographically with short right legs.2
Functional Leg-Length Assessments
Through the years, manual therapists have developed many creative ways to differentiate functional (fixable) from structural (true) limb-length differences. Screening exams taught in educational programs often place too much emphasis on supine leg-length assessment in determining pelvic disorders. Commonly, one leg will appear shorter during visual observation of the supine client's medial malleoli (Fig. 4) when, in fact, the leg lengths actually are equal or just the opposite of how they appear radiographically when standing. For example, in the presence of a true (structural) short right leg, standing ASIS measurements should show an inferior slope on the short side. However, when the client lies supine (removed from vertical gravitational compression), the left leg may suddenly test shorter than the right. While many factors may contribute to this finding, one of the most common culprits is length/strength imbalance in deep intrinsic postural muscles such as the quadratus lumborum (QL). When unilaterally short and tight, the QL can 'hip hike' the left ilium as the client assumes an off-weighted supine posture. Confusion mounts as the left leg now appears shorter than the right. Figure 5 presents an effective contract/relax/assist maneuver to lengthen the hypercontracted left QL.
Although leg, hip and pelvic corrections shouldn't be based solely on supine test results, helpful information is derived by combining it with other exams such as prone leg-length tests. These oft-neglected prone assessments offer therapists additional clues for solving the limb- length puzzle. When prone, both ASISs are "pinned" to the table, thus preventing ilial rotation and allowing the therapist to isolate sacroiliac and axial skeletal joint dysfunction. Here's a quick reference for differentiating supine from prone limb-length assessment:
Supine: Tests leg-length differences resulting from iliosacral rotation, typically due to muscle imbalance.
Prone: Tests leg-length inequality as the lumbar spine attempts to adapt to sacral-base unleveling in the presence of SI joint dysfunction.
Depending on the degree of leg-length shortness, compensations may travel all the way up through the cervical spine and into the cranium (Ascending Syndrome). Conversely, "key" restrictions sometimes begin in the head or neck and travel down the kinetic chain (Descending Syndrome), causing pelvic obliquity and adaptive leg-shortening (Figs. 6A and B).
During the course of an examination, several simple tests help uncover the biomechanical root of the shortened leg. However, none are adequate to fully assess all possible causes. The Derifield (deer-field) Maneuver3 and others discussed below are useful in "weeding out" spinal and pelvic disorders.
The Derifield Maneuver
The neurological basis for body balance is found in the brain's reticular system, where the inhibitory and facilitory systems maintain muscle balance. Cranial or cervical fixations can affect lower-limb musculature via tonic neck reflexes, resulting in the appearance of one leg being short when viewed with the client in the prone position. Typically, comparisons are made by observing the feet, with knees in extended and flexed positions, noting any leg- length disparity (Fig. 7).
To determine if head/neck restrictions might be altering leg length, the therapist places the thumbs inferior to the medial malleoli. The client is asked to turn their head to one side and then the other. If cervical joint restrictions and/or bony spurs "snag" the dural membrane, head-turning can twist and torsion the sacrum, resulting in leg-length changes. Sometimes, the apparent leg-length discrepancy is resolved or even reversed during these cervical rotation maneuvers.
The second phase of testing begins with the client's head in neutral with the therapist's thumbs evaluating medial malleoli height. Once a visual measurement has been noted, the therapist's hands slightly plantar-flex the client's feet while slowly bending the knees to 90°, examining for any changes in heel height. Four possible findings may be noted during this test.
2. Short leg gets shorter. Sacroiliac and lumbar spine dysfunction can create muscle hypertonicity that shortens the leg in appearance as it is flexed. Figures 9A and B show effective myoskeletal springing maneuvers for derotating the pelvis to correct sacroiliac and lumbar spine asymmetry.
3. Short leg becomes longer. A posteriorly rotated and fixated ilium (usually left) shortens the leg. When accompanied by an adhesive right-anterior hip capsule, increased rectus femoris pull during knee flexion shortens the right extremity causing the left leg to appear as long, or longer, than the right. This is termed cross-over. The therapist should perform spring tests for a posteriorly fixated left ilium and anteriorly fixated, right hip capsule (Figs. 10A and B).
4. Heel Drop: With knees flexed 90°, the therapist allows both heels to drop toward the buttocks to see if one leg falls farther than the other. The heel falling farther usually is a positive indicator of a posterior sacral rotation on that side. This finding is noted as a positive Webster's sign.4 A variety of spring tests can be used to identify and correct the torsion.
Neurological Explanations for Short Legs
When a short-right-legged client stands with each foot resting side by side on bathroom scales, a measurable weight-shift typically occurs to the low side. The Leaning Tower of Pisa demonstrates this normal law of physics. However, the Tower does not possess a nervous system. Several researchers including Kappler, Previc and Pope5,6,7 believe that some individuals unconsciously resist this gravitational pull by sideshifting body weight to the left side, through a prenatal organizational system called cerebral lateralization. Their research theorizes that motor dominance overrides anatomical and gravitational factors in these individuals. It's thought that right motor dominance has roots in fetal positioning during the third trimester, resulting in the brain's lateralization process.8
In the brain, motor dominance typically crosses cortexes from left to right (left brain controls right side of the body). Conveniently, left vestibular dominance, which assists in balance, coordination and orientation, travels ipsilaterally down the left leg to allow left-sided weight bearing during right motor-dominant activities. For instance, a right motor-dominant person typically balances on their left leg to perform tasks such as kicking a ball (Fig. 11). Combining right motor and left vestibular dominance often results in a left-side-shifting maneuver of the pelvis over the vestibularly long left leg during standing (Fig. 12). This neurological postural shift helps explain many unusual pain patterns seen in clinic.
Short Leg Symptoms
Those with short right legs who bear more to the short right side usually report greater SI joint pain in the right hip and low back area. Examination of the sacrum often reveals a deep right sacral base, positive spring test for anteriorly fixated ilium and tender iliolumbar and sacroiliac ligaments. Conversely, motor-dominant clients who side-shift over the left leg usually experience greater left-sided SI joint pain and a positive spring test for a posteriorly fixated ilium. Symptoms worsen during prolonged walking or running, as overstretched abductors grind against the greater trochanter, creating bursitis, gluteus medius tendinosis and piriformis syndrome.
Since the human body rarely is symmetrical side to side, testing for loss of joint play often provides more reliable information than analyzing anatomical landmark findings. For decades, therapists have utilized spring tests to determine the presence (or absence) of joint-play in ankles, feet, hips and shoulders. Regrettably, spring tests are not as commonly used to evaluate spinal and sacroiliac joints. Therapists can benefit greatly by observing for common postural patterns during gait, checking anatomical landmarks, and spring-testing questionable structures to see if the findings have relative value.
Iliosacral, SI joint, and lumbar spine spring tests are valuable assessment and treatment tools that fit perfectly into a massage therapy format. Following the supine and prone leg-length tests, specific springing maneuvers can be used to verify findings and correct motion-restricted joints.
Since short limbs arise from biomechanical as well as neurological factors, therapists must take time to fully evaluate the client looking for common compensatory patterns such as the short right leg. Visual observation of the client's gait alerts the therapist to the possibility of cerebral lateralization and accompanying pelvic side-shifting. Supine and prone exams should be compared with other anatomical landmark findings to determine whether iliosacral, sacroiliac or head and neck restrictions are responsible for limb-length problems. Discrepancies greater than 2 cm can be associated with scoliosis, pelvic obliquity and alterations in the normal walking cycle. From a functional standpoint, there is strong, though not conclusive, evidence of an associated increase in the incidence of low back pain and hip joint osteoarthritis.
Click here for previous articles by Erik Dalton, PhD.
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