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Leg length discrepancy and fit

Road Cycling “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.” -- Ernest Hemingway

Leg length discrepancy and fit

Old 07-30-12, 09:59 AM
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cocar
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Leg length discrepancy and fit

So, as I'm now riding longer distances, I'm starting to have an issue with my left sit bone getting sore. I'm 90 % sure it's not really a saddle problem per se, I've so far never had a problem with my saddle. I'm pretty sure the issue is this: I have a functional leg length discrepancy of 3/4 in. Left leg is shorter. When they did my original fit on my bike, the guy did a lot of tinkering with my saddle height, back and forth, watching me ride, before finally asking me if one of my legs was longer than the other. I tend to forget about it. Anyhow, I unclip with my right, I can just get the toe of that foot on the ground when seated. I don't know if the bike is set up to favor my long or short leg when pedaling--but I'm pretty sure it's the long, causing me to have to really reach with the left. I know I cannot pedal smoothly with the left foot alone...if I pedal left foot alone I'm at risk for crashing. I say all that to ask this...any ideas for how this could be corrected? No, I can't wear a 3/4 in lift in my shoe, it makes my shoe fall off (tried it). If I lower my seat, my knees hit my abdomen in the drops. Someone else must have had this problem, and I'm just not envisioning the solutions.
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Old 07-30-12, 10:02 AM
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How did you come up with the 3/4 inch?
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Old 07-30-12, 10:08 AM
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Have you had your leg measured to determine if your legs are different or your hip is out of alignment? If your SI joint is out you might be better off working with a PT rather than changing the fit on your bike.
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Old 07-30-12, 10:11 AM
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If you are riding clipless, then a fitter can determine the exact distance and it can be filled with the correct number of shims to even this out. You'd be surprised how many people have this problem.
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Old 07-30-12, 10:11 AM
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I didn't come up with the 3/4 of an inch, the orthopedist did. Resulted from a birth defect at the hip.
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Old 07-30-12, 10:16 AM
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Originally Posted by roadwarrior View Post
If you are riding clipless, then a fitter can determine the exact distance and it can be filled with the correct number of shims to even this out. You'd be surprised how many people have this problem.
Pardon my ignorance, but where do the shims go? Between the shoe and the cleat?
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Old 07-30-12, 10:49 AM
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Originally Posted by cocar View Post
Pardon my ignorance, but where do the shims go? Between the shoe and the cleat?
Yes.
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Old 07-30-12, 11:00 AM
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Shims are one way to address the issue. But 3/4" is a lot of distance. Having different length crank arms might work better for you.
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Old 07-30-12, 12:51 PM
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Ok, so having gone and read a bit about shims, I understand the theory. It seems like 3/4 inch would be quite a lot. Anyone here ride with anything close to that amount and does it work out for you?

The different crank arm lengths seem to make more sense in my head, but I'm for anything that works.
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Old 07-30-12, 12:54 PM
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Originally Posted by cocar View Post
I didn't come up with the 3/4 of an inch, the orthopedist did. Resulted from a birth defect at the hip.
Thanks...
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Old 07-30-12, 12:56 PM
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I have a much smaller leg length difference (6mm) that I use a shim for (3mm). When I tried going for 6mm in shims, I was finding it really hard to clip in (using Look cleats and pedals).

I would say go for a different sized crank arm since your difference is very large. Also, my BG fitter said they usually compensate for half the difference, for whatever reason.
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Old 07-30-12, 12:59 PM
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If I may: If your fitter had to ask you if you had one leg longer than the other, you need to find another fitter. These things have to be measured accurately, and shims carefully selected as a part of the overall fitting process.
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Old 07-30-12, 01:28 PM
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Originally Posted by Commodus View Post
If I may: If your fitter had to ask you if you had one leg longer than the other, you need to find another fitter. These things have to be measured accurately, and shims carefully selected as a part of the overall fitting process.
I don't doubt that the fitter could be better, but to be fair, it's complicated. The fitter definitely knew something was wrong, but it's pretty hard to pin it down just looking at me and taking measurements. It was hard even for the orthopedist. Here's why. It's a functional leg length difference, not an actual difference.

My two legs are the same length. When I was born, on one side, I had a normal hip. On the other side, I had a normal "ball" part of the ball and socket hip joint, but no "socket". Where the socket (acetabulum) was supposed to be was completely flat. They figured this out when I was a baby and couldn't crawl. So, since my bones were still soft, they put me in a brace for a year or so force my pelvis to mold a socket around the ball. Which worked---it just didn't line up level with the other side. My hips are not directly across from each other, creating the discrepancy. Nobody realized this had happened until I flunked a scoliosis screening test in middle school.

But for a fitter to just measure my legs, they will measure the same length, because my femurs and tibias are the same length. But when I sit on the saddle and pedal, or stand up, right leg is functionally longer.


So, I have no doubt that I need to find another fitter, but how to find one that actually understands what's going on, I'm not sure.
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Old 07-30-12, 02:18 PM
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Originally Posted by cocar View Post
I don't doubt that the fitter could be better, but to be fair, it's complicated. The fitter definitely knew something was wrong, but it's pretty hard to pin it down just looking at me and taking measurements. It was hard even for the orthopedist. Here's why. It's a functional leg length difference, not an actual difference.

My two legs are the same length. When I was born, on one side, I had a normal hip. On the other side, I had a normal "ball" part of the ball and socket hip joint, but no "socket". Where the socket (acetabulum) was supposed to be was completely flat. They figured this out when I was a baby and couldn't crawl. So, since my bones were still soft, they put me in a brace for a year or so force my pelvis to mold a socket around the ball. Which worked---it just didn't line up level with the other side. My hips are not directly across from each other, creating the discrepancy. Nobody realized this had happened until I flunked a scoliosis screening test in middle school.

But for a fitter to just measure my legs, they will measure the same length, because my femurs and tibias are the same length. But when I sit on the saddle and pedal, or stand up, right leg is functionally longer.


So, I have no doubt that I need to find another fitter, but how to find one that actually understands what's going on, I'm not sure.
I understand, because I have a similar, though less severe, issue. The fitter I saw noticed the issue as I walked up to him, verified it with measurements and experimentation on the bike, and shimmed my cleats accordingly.

A functional difference is very common, and a severe one should be blindingly obvious to an experienced fitter. I mean really, it's about the second thing that should get checked...everything else is dependent on cleat position, after all.
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Old 07-30-12, 02:26 PM
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See, this is where your fitter falls short (in all likelihood). Get a good medical bike fit from a sports med fitter if you can. They can/will actually assess your body statically, in motion, and with a proper "exam" if you will. Their aim is to know your body as well as the bike equipment before trying to pair the two. Good medical bike fits are not necessary (especially for folks w/ very symmetrical, standard proportions) but are REALLY useful for those of us with "issues" (ie injuries, odd proportions, and other physical realities that need to be addressed for a proper fit and miles of worry/injury free cycling). Shims do it for most discrepancies but there are other options...
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Old 07-31-12, 12:05 AM
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Originally Posted by cocar View Post
My hips are not directly across from each other, creating the discrepancy.
I'm wondering if there is a functional *forward* (or lateral) bias or is it all vertical when you are on the bike? If there is a lateral bias then it would be similar to having a short femur... which is my issue... same left side and same amount... 3/4" (~2cm).

The best help I got was using a 5mm forward cleat position, and 5mm shorter left crank. A spacer alone might be better for you. At any rate, you need to go through the whole pedal stroke and try to compensate for ~50% of the difference... don't try for 100%, and make sure that you don't cause some parts of the stroke to be even worse! The power phase is the most important part to get right.
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Old 07-31-12, 12:26 AM
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I was hit by a car at age six and my left femur was shattered. The way it was put back together shortened my leg a couple of inches. But, because I was only six year old, the left leg has now equalized with the right or at least they are very close. I had to wear one shoe with a huge heal on it which is probably what you would do with shims. A shim will go under your cleat so that when you are standing with your shoes on you will be standing up straight and both your hips joints will be the same distance to the floor.
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Old 07-31-12, 06:26 AM
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Originally Posted by rruff View Post
I'm wondering if there is a functional *forward* (or lateral) bias or is it all vertical when you are on the bike? If there is a lateral bias then it would be similar to having a short femur... which is my issue... same left side and same amount... 3/4" (~2cm).

The best help I got was using a 5mm forward cleat position, and 5mm shorter left crank. A spacer alone might be better for you. At any rate, you need to go through the whole pedal stroke and try to compensate for ~50% of the difference... don't try for 100%, and make sure that you don't cause some parts of the stroke to be even worse! The power phase is the most important part to get right.
That's a good question. I know in a standing position, it's all vertical. I don't know about sitting on the bike, though. That might change things. Once I find a fitter, I'll have to ask them about that.

My next question is this--if they put shims in, will it still allow for float in the cleats? I have a lot of float in my cleats because to further complicate things, my left knee is mostly trashed (3 surgeries).
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Old 07-31-12, 09:30 AM
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Originally Posted by banerjek View Post
Shims are one way to address the issue. But 3/4" is a lot of distance. Having different length crank arms might work better for you.
The full difference need not be shimmed. The correction, depending upon the source of the leg length difference, is to shim 1/3 to 1/2 of the distance. 1/4" to 3/8" is still pretty significant, but could be made to work with an insert under the foot in addition to cleat shims, or perhaps some other solution. I'm not a fitter, but my understanding is that different length cranks aren't generally considered a good solution. Maybe with such a big difference that changes things, I don't know. I will say that I also have a difference in leg length, though it's more like 6 or 7 mm in my case, which is fairly mild. But that difference has caused me injury problems in the past. The OP's leg length difference is about 3 times more severe than mine.
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Old 07-31-12, 09:50 AM
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Originally Posted by cocar View Post
My next question is this--if they put shims in, will it still allow for float in the cleats?
Sure... the shim goes between the cleat and the shoe. A friend did it by stacking two cleats and attaching them together.
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