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Why Is It Important to Compensate for Leg Length Differential?

We’re rowers. We’re supposed to have back problems and sacroiliac joint dysfunction, right? Of course not! While it’s true that the nature of the sport places a tremendous demand on the spine and pelvis, pain in this area is highly preventable through technique modifications and, as we highlight here, an emphasis on a symmetrical stroke. When part of the body’s kinetic chain is off-kilter, it stands to reason that even a small degree of imbalance can affect joints all the way up the chain. One of the biggest offenders? A differential in leg length.

What Is Leg Length Differential?

Fundamentally, it is when one leg is longer than the other.

How Does This Happen?

A difference in leg length could be genetic or the result of an accident or injury. Chronic spinal misalignment can perpetuate the problem.

How Can You Recognize It?

A knowledgeable athletic trainer can identify leg length differential by having the individual lie on their back and extend legs parallel.  A coach may recognize that such a condition exists by watching their rower on an erg.  If one knee is lower at the catch, there is a good chance that leg is shorter. As an athlete, you may be cued in to checking for this issue if you have pain or dysfunction in your SI joints when you row.

Why Is Leg Length Differential A Problem?

Asymmetries in one’s stroke may not seem important at first, but over time can not only affect performance, but also manifest in a variety of compensatory injuries. Depending on how severe the condition is, aggressive workouts could result in injury, particularly low back and sacroiliac joint dysfunction.

What’s The Solution?

In addition to physical therapy targeting hip and pelvic function, athletes can rely on shims to bring balance back to their stroke. The shim can be installed between the sole of the crew shoe and the footstretcher.  Normally it is recommended that you compensate for one-half of the amount of the actual differential. Depending on your brand, shims are available in a variety of thicknesses to compensate for a disparity in leg length and, thus, realign the stroke for symmetry.