Q. After my hip replacement, my legs feel uneven. What do I do?
A. During hip replacement surgery, your surgeon replaces the ball-and-socket of the hip joint with artificial components. Stephen Murphy, an orthopedic surgeon at New England Baptist Hospital, explains that surgeons consider several factors when choosing and aligning the parts of an artificial hip: existing leg lengths, condition of the joint, tension of the surrounding soft tissues, flexibility of the spine, and alignment of the whole body. “You have a lot of choices,” he says, and a surgeon may position the socket or thigh component differently to achieve the best result. But there are limits to what surgeons can do, and sometimes joint stability takes priority over other factors.
Minor leg length discrepancies are a fairly common complaint after hip replacement surgery. “Sometimes people think there’s a discrepancy when there’s not,” Murphy says. Many times, the operative leg was shorter to begin with because the joint had deteriorated, and it feels longer when evened out. In other cases, after the joint is replaced, the leg springs out to the side temporarily, making it feel longer than it actually is for several weeks.
A change in leg lengths, whether perceived or measurable, often lessens over time as you exercise, stretch, and acclimate to the new joint. If the discrepancy is noticeable, using a shoe lift for the shorter leg can help. If it causes pain or difficulty walking or balancing, a revision surgery may be necessary to correct the problem.