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Why does the chiropractor look at your feet when you have pain in your back or neck? When you visit a chiropractor for the first time, this may seem a bit confusing. Why do they do this?

The answer is quite simple. An improperly curved spine can cause a shift in the pelvis, lifting one leg higher than the other. This condition is commonly referred to as Leg Length Discrepancy (LLD). This can lead to pain in the foot, knee, leg, back, neck, or a combination of these. Checking your leg lengths is an easy way for the chiropractor to see if your spine is out of alignment. This one method of diagnosis is perhaps the easiest to perform.

Many things can contribute to putting your spine out of alignment, from poor posture to physical trauma. The most obvious traumas are collisions or falls. A car accident is a perfect example, but it’s also a relatively extreme and easy-to-identify cause. Trauma can include someone bumping into you really hard, or you whipping your head around in reaction to some startling event. Suddenly, the weight of your head is no longer evenly distributed above your neck. Muscles in your neck tighten to compensate. The rest of your body reacts, pulling and tugging appropriate postural muscles to help keep your body upright. Simple repetitive motions or postures throughout the day can also act as an “ongoing trauma” that is much more subtle. Such repetition can cause muscles to tighten, pulling on bones, including your spine. After all these small compensatory changes happen, one leg may appear longer than the other.

The types of examples mentioned earlier refer to “functional LLD,” where one leg appears shorter than the other because of an improperly curved spine. But what if one leg is structurally shorter than the other? What if there are actual differences in bone length? This is called “structural LLD,” and it can be the cause of sometimes serious misalignment of the spine, resulting in both pain and reduced function.

If you have structural LLD, correcting the spine’s alignment directly is only a temporary fix. If chiropractic adjustments don’t seem to be solving your back pain problems, ask your chiropractor for X-rays to accurately measure the length of your legs. The amount of discrepancy should be recorded, and an appropriate shoe fitted with a heel lift. If the amount of discrepancy is great, you may have to adjust gradually with larger and larger heel lifts. Consult with your chiropractor for the best approach.

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