► Health TopicsBone, Muscle & JointSkeletal limb abnormalities

Skeletal limb abnormalities


Skeletal limb abnormalities refers to a variety of bone structure problems in the arms or legs (limbs).


The term skeletal limb abnormalities is most often used to describe defects in the legs or arms that are due to a problem with your genes or chromosomes, or that occur due to an event that happens during pregnancy.

The abnormalities are often present at birth.

Limb abnormalities can develop after birth if a person has rickets or other diseases that affect bone structure.


Skeletal limb abnormalities may be due to any of the following:

  • Cancer
  • Genetic diseases and chromosomal abnormalities, including Marfan syndrome, Down syndrome, Apert syndrome, and Basal cell nevus syndrome
  • Improper position in the womb
  • Infections during pregnancy
  • Injury during birth
  • Malnutrition
  • Metabolic disorders
  • Pregnancy problems, including limb amputation from amniotic band disruption sequence
  • Use of certain medicines during pregnancy including thalidomide, which causes the upper part of the arms or legs to be missing and aminopterin which leads to shortness of the forearm

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if you have any concerns about limb length or appearance.

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

An infant with limb abnormalities generally has other symptoms and signs that, when taken together, define a specific syndrome or condition or give a clue as to the cause of the abnormality. Diagnosis is based on a family history, medical history, and thorough physical evaluation.

Medical history questions may include:

  • Does anyone in your family have skeletal abnormalities?
  • Were there any problems during pregnancy?
  • What drugs or medicines were taken during the pregnancy?
  • What other symptoms or abnormalities are present?

Other tests such as chromosome studies, enzyme assays, x-rays, and metabolic studies may be done.


Deeney VF, Arnold J, Moreland MS, Ward WT, Davix HW. Orthopedics. In: Zitelli BJ, McIntire SC, Nowalk AJ, eds. Atlas of Pediatric Physical Diagnosis. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 21.

Francomano CA. Skeletal dysplasias. In: Hochberg MC, Silman AJ, Smolen JS, Weinblatt ME, Weisman MH, eds. Rheumatology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2015:chap 211.

Nicklaus Children's Hospital

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