Leg Length Discrepancy and a Tight Psoas Major


leg length discrepancy and a tight psoas majorMany people suffer from a leg length discrepancy and this is almost always an issue with the tone of the psoas major rather than with the length of the bones of the skeleton. The body can be divided up in a number of ways—top and bottom, inside and out, back and front, and for today’s discussion, left and right.  The legs, as I have written about before, follow a very cool 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 pattern of bones—one femur for the upper leg; two shin bones; three bones for the ankle; four for the mid-foot; and five toes. The coolest aspect of this pattern is that each bone on the opposite side is exactly the same length and breadth.

In rare cases people are born with bones of different sizes and very often traumatic injuries can affect the length of the bones; but for the most part the hard bits of our skeleton are equal to each other when they exist in pairs. So getting that out of the way leaves us with our psoas major muscle and its ability to wreak havoc on our bodies.

A tight psoas major can take on many patterns. A classic and I think primary pattern, is when the psoas both pulls the leg up into its hip socket at the bottom and pulls the rib cage down towards the hip at the top. I say primary because I think this is the first tightening pattern for all psoas. In some cases the assorted torque and pull on the spine and ribcage can get much more extreme leading to scoliosis and even a hunchback.

Everyone has a leg length discrepancy—it is merely a matter of degree. If you don’t know which one of your legs is shorter than the other here are a few things to look for to figure it out. Very often one foot turns out more than the other—that is your shorter leg. One hip is usually higher than the other- the higher hip is your shorter leg. One shoulder is often lower than the other—that side will be your shorter leg. If you have never observed these details about yourself spend some time looking in the mirror to explore your physical body.

Everyone should get to know themselves but to use one of my favorite quotes from the German writer Goethe, “Know myself. If I knew myself, I’d run away”. And I’ll throw in a Ben Franklin quote for good measure. “There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.”

How to work with this discrepancy is another story entirely. One of my favorite psoas releases, Foot on a Block, addresses leg length discrepancy directly. You can do this release on your shorter side, or both sides, feeling what it is like to stand both before and after. It can be a fairly radical feeling even though the exercise only takes about thirty seconds.

There is another very important issue when it comes to leg length discrepancy and yoga practice. The shorter leg is the tighter leg which is not going to have the same range of motion as the looser leg. Many people are right handed and our dominant side is often our shorter side. This is a hypothetical but let’s say that your right side is tighter and the ability to stretch it is limited both physically and emotionally. Then you move to work your left side, or more open side, and the available stretch is deeper and feels better—so you dive into it.

Unfortunately, if you can relate to that feeling, you are likely increasing your imbalance and leg length discrepancy with every yoga pose that you do. It is very hard to approach the practice from the point of view of limiting yourself but everyone should really be stretching to the limit of their tighter side and be focusing on bringing the body into balance rather than just stretch both sides as much as you can.

Good luck with that.

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21 Comments
  1. brilliant – as always. you are preaching to the choir on this one, but I will happily give you an “Amen!” As I always say, “if the psoas is happy, everyone is happy”. I can’t wait to share with my clients and students.

  2. This is exactly what I have! My body does the same as the girl in the pic and my right foot turns out more. I hate having this condition. I cannot sit for long periods of time, so road trips are very painful. I’ll try the block stretches out. Thanks!

  3. Great info, thanks for the blog.

    I’ve had back and neck problems for most of my life, and I’ve seen many chiropractors, physiotherapists, etc.–each of which seems to have a different opinion. A few years ago, a chiropractor who had me take an x-ray, and was insistent that I had a real leg length discrepancy. She strongly suggested that I should wear a heel lift. I’ve seen some other people since then who seem to disagree.

    My body is a bit different from your description above. My ‘long’ leg is actually the one where the foot turns out, and when I was younger, I had a problem with the foot on my ‘short’ leg turning in. Do you have any thoughts about this? Otherwise, on the short side my shoulder is lower and my hip and ribcage are closer together.

    Thanks.

  4. Do I think I figured out a way that works for me to stretch my psoas. I start in a relatively shallow lunge with the tight leg back (let’s say left because that’s my psoas that’s always locked down). I then make sure my hips are square and even tuck my tailbone a bit. Then I twist my torso towards the tight side (left) mildly. If that is enough, I stay there. If it’s not, while in the twist I lean away from the tight side (to the right). If you only feel it in the “hip flexors” congratulations, your psoas isn’t tight or your hip flexors are just tighter. The first couple of times I did it it HURT SO GOOD. Really deep burning pain like when my chiropractor would release my psoas by digging his fingers in. Only a week later I have to work to feel the stretch. Sitting and standing are so much easier!

    After many years of trying to release my psoas I think this has really made the difference along with other postural and strengthening exercises.

  5. Great post, something to think about in my body:
    – right hip externally rotates more
    – right hip higher
    – right shoulder lower

    As a child, I was told it was leg length differences and scoliosis (which I do have).

    It would be interesting to see what would happen if I focused on lengthening the right side psoas… Years of teaching yoga demoing a lunge briefly with the right leg forward only would probably exaggerate these differences. I’ll resort to mirroring more when teaching and spending extra time lengthening the right psoas, thanks for this post 😉

  6. Is congenital anatomical leg length discrepancy really all that rare? Most people’s hands and feet are slightly different sizes. Why wouldn’t the same be true of the leg bones? Also, if a practitioner tests for leg length discrepancy by checking the pelvis while forward bending, does this rule out psoas issues?

    • Hi Dana, I do think that bone discrepancies are fairly rare. Of course I could be wrong. Regarding the psoas, while I think that most back pain involves the psoas, it is never lonly the psoas. If there is a problem it will be wit hthe whole complex of muscles. For example, if there is a piriformis problem it will also affect the psoas; if there is a QL problem it will also affect the psoas, etc…

  7. Thank you!! This really helps Leg length discrepancy isn’t that bad Richard Garcia. Take it from me I am only 13 and was born with it. I had to deal with it all my life and I am in middle school This condition just makes you work harder. For me its hard to walk with out limping

  8. Interested to know what your thoughts are on muscles being facilitated or inhibited rather than tight/long.

    For example, a muscle can he short but inhibited, in which case, stretching it (Even though it FEELS short/tight) makes it worse.
    I spent years stretching my ‘tight’ posts and only when I realised I needed to bring it back to life with some gentle MET did my hips begin to balance out and the pin reduce.

    • I llove stretching but I don’t think it often heals issues. I am all about postural alignemnt to balance the resting length of bones. While there are many ways to approach pain relief, I have found the skeletal alignement and improved movement patterns is the secret sauce that makes changes last.

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