Cycling with a Leg Length Discrepancy

In addition to missing a bone in my leg, part of the condition I was born with means that my left leg is 7+ inches shorter than my right.  Nearly 3 inches of that difference is in my femur (the part of my leg between hip and knee), and that difference gets made up for in height by making the part of my prosthesis longer so that when I stand I don’t have one leg that’s shorter than the other.  However, a negative side effect of this is that it means my left knee comes up way higher in my upstroke than my right, which leads to me kicking myself in the chest – especially if I’m in any semblance of an aero position.

me on a bike at a triathlon before we had the new pedals
Cycling before major adjustments – as you can see, my knee is almost hitting my elbow and my thigh is hitting my chest

Not only is this annoying, but it also makes me less efficient on the left side.  Lucky for me, I’m married to a prosthetist who likes a good challenge, so we’ve been working for the past two years on coming up with a better system to help get more power out of my left side while also preventing me from kneeing myself in the chest my entire ride.

One of the main things we’ve done is shorten the crank arm on the left side.  This is basically the solution to the knee kicking chest issue because with a shorter crank arm, my leg doesn’t come up as high when I’m in the upward part of my pedal stroke.  However, this also means I have a shorter lever to push with on that side, so it does not help with maximizing power.  With the shorter crank arm, I was also having issues in the down stroke of my pedal, so we continued to search for something even better.

Last year, Zach found something called a CrankTip pedal, which goes in an elliptical shape as you pedal rather than a circular shape like the standard pedal.  The elliptical shape means that my left leg does not go up as far on the upstroke, but still goes down far enough to get optimal extension in the downstroke, and it goes forward when I’m at the 3 o’clock position, so it has allowed me to get more power out of my stroke while still saving my chest from that pesky knee.  Coupling this new pedal with the shorter crank arm has definitely given me a greater opportunity to get more out of my pedal strokes, and I think it’s even helped make me a little faster.

photo of pedal tracks for both standard pedal and crank tip pedal

It would have been fairly easy to justify throwing in the towel and to say this just isn’t the sport for someone with challenges like mine, but we didn’t.  My mom’s response to things that challenged me when I was growing up was never to suggest that maybe I couldn’t or shouldn’t do it, but instead to ask how we could make it work so I could do it, whatever it was.  I’m fortunate to be married to a guy with that same attitude who is always looking for solutions to help me – and all of his other patients – so we can try to figure out a way to make things work.  Taking a lesson from my mom and husband, rather than thinking “this will never work” or “I can never do that,” I think we should instead be thinking “how can I make this work for me.”  With this new mindset, we will likely see more positive outcomes when we face new challenges.

cycling after adjustments to my bike
Cycling after major adjustments – as you can see, my elbow is in less danger and I’m not kicking myself anymore

For a broader and more technical explanation of cycling after an amputation, check out Zach’s blog here.

 

4 Replies to “Cycling with a Leg Length Discrepancy”

    1. Whether or not there’s an increased chance for a child likely depends on the cause of her amputation. With fibular hemimelia (which is what I have), doctors do not believe it’s genetic… they actually don’t know the cause. She should probably talk to a doctor/genetic specialist if you are concerned because I do have another friend who has a genetic condition and both of her sons have been born with the same diagnosis as her and all of them have had bilateral below knee amputations.

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