VIDEO: Raising a Child with a Limb Difference | CBC Parents * 2023
VIDEO: Raising a Child with a Limb Difference | CBC Parents * 2023

Limb differences

It can include deficiencies, deformities, or discrepancies that make a limb appear different.

Limb deficiency

A limb deficiency is when a leg, arm, hand, finger, foot, or toe is crooked, uneven, partially formed or even missing. It can affect the whole limb or just part of the limb and can be congenital (present at birth) or acquired (the result of a disease, accident or other trauma).

Limb deformity

A limb deformity is a misshapen limb. A deformity can affect the appearance and function of upper limbs like the arms, hands and fingers, as well as lower limbs like the legs, feet, and toes.

Limb length discrepancy

If it has a limb length discrepancy, which means the limbs are uneven, it may be caused by limb deficiency problems or complications from broken bone growth plates and may be the result of:

  • Failure of formation.

  • Abnormal formation.

  • Too many bones and fingers.

  • Too few bones and fingers.

In the human body, there are two kinds of limbs, Upper limbs and lower limbs. Two Upper limbs are called arms, while two lower limbs are called legs. It has 4 limbs in total, in which 2 are upper limbs and other 2 are lower limbs. Upper and lower limbs consist of elements of the shoulder and hip girdles. A knee joints the upper and lower segment of each lower limb, while an elbow joints the upper and lower segment of each upper limb.

Limb difference is the partial or complete absence of or malformation of limbs (arms and legs). There are two main types of limb difference: congenital limb difference and acquired limb difference.

Congenital limb difference is also referred to as “limb reduction” or “congenital amputation” or “amelia” and occurs when someone is born missing all or part of their upper and/or lower limbs.

Acquired limb differences is also known as “amputation” and occurs when someone has a limb removed for medical reasons, or accidentally due to trauma.


Signs and symptoms of a Limb Difference

Signs of a limb difference depend on which limb is affected and how severe the difference is. Some limb differences are so mild that you can’t notice them. Others are quite noticeable and affect the way a child moves or walks.

There are many types of limb differences. A limb difference can also happen after an injury. The most common symptoms of congenital limb differences include:

  • Complete or partial absence of a limb (such as fibula hemimelia or a partial or completely missing bone).
  • Overgrowth (one limb is much larger than the other limb).
  • Undergrowth (one limb is much smaller than the other limb).
  • A portion of the limb is fused or webbed (commonly seen in fingers or toes).
  • Duplication (commonly seen as extra fingers or toes).

Causes congenital limb differences

The cause for most limb deficiencies, deformities and discrepancies is unknown, but it’s assumed that amniotic bands could be a cause of limb deficiency in upper or lower limbs. Others may be inherited, although this is rare. For some limb differences, however, there may be underlying bone problems like rickets, which can lead to bent bones, or osteogenesis imperfecta (brittle bone disease), that can lead to deformities from multiple fractures.

A limb difference or deficiency can be the result of:

  • Lack of formation in utero.

  • Abnormal formation in utero.

  • Too many bones and fingers forming in utero.

  • Too few bones and fingers forming in utero.

  • Amniotic bands tightening around limbs, restricting growth.

  • Fractures.

  • Exposure of the mother to chemicals or viruses during pregnancy.

  • Certain medications taken during pregnancy.

No matter the cause, a person with limb differences are all unique.

Limb difference treated

To give the best treatment, health care providers consider how severe the limb difference is, whether it makes regular activities (such as walking or writing) hard, how old the child is, and whether the difference is likely to get worse and cause other problems. Sometimes no treatment is needed.

Treatment may include:

  • Physical therapy and occupational therapy to increase strength and function.

  • Splint or brace to support the affected limb.

  • Surgery, such as reconstructive or limb-lengthening surgery, to correct the limb difference.

  • An artificial limb (prosthetic).

Congenital limb differences – general

– achondroplasia
– arthrogryposis
– leg- and arm- length discrepancy
– skeletal dysplasia

Congenital differences of the arm and hand

– cleft hand
– clinodactyly
– macrodactyly

– Madelung’s deformity
– polydactyly
– radial longitudinal deficiency
– radioulnar synostosis
– symbrachydactyly
– syndactyly
– ulnar longitudinal deficiency

Congenital differences of the leg and foot

– cleft foot
– clubfoot
– congenital short femur/proximal focal

– femoral deficiency (PFFD)
– femoral anteversion
– fibular hemimelia
– metatarsus adductus
– tarsal coalition
– tibia hemimelia
– tibial torsion

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