Many people who have short stature are often ready to do anything to increase their height. Limb-lengthening surgery is an option for those ones ready to go any length to achieve their aim.
Short men are believed to be especially more interested in this procedure, which is not for the faint-hearted. It is easy to understand why, actually. Women typically find tall men more attractive. Essentially, these short men usually desire to improve their chances with ladies.
Is the help this procedure seems to offer for growing taller one not to miss? We cover in this article practically all you’d need to know about limb-lengthening surgery, including possible gain, costs, and risks.
What is Limb Lengthening Surgery?
One can say the name says it all. Limb-lengthening surgery is a procedure that is carried out to increase the length of the legs. This is why it is alternatively referred to as a leg-lengthening procedure by some people.
The cosmetic procedure is also known as bone-lengthening surgery. It works on the principle of distraction osteogenesis. This has to do with the ability of the human body to produce new tissues and bones when the right stress is applied.
Although the name might not point at it, the ultimate goal of this procedure is usually to increase height. Well, that appears to be what is driving its popularity these days. But it was originally done to correct deformities in the limbs, such as a discrepancy in leg length.
Limb-lengthening surgery is sometimes called Ilizarov procedure after Gavril Ilizarov. The Soviet physician used a type of device now used for this kind of surgery to experiment on patients returning from World War II.
Ilizarov’s new method gained significant popularity after it was successfully used to treat Soviet Olympic high jumper Valeriy Brumel.
Limb Lengthening Techniques
Gradual limb lengthening is now the most popular approach to these procedures. The use of acute lengthening method in the past was often accompanied by serious issues, including nerve injury and implant failure.
The following are some of the common techniques involved in gradual limb lengthening.
This technique or principle was what Ilizarov’s work mainly revolved around. The Soviet physician found that gradual distraction, or pulling apart, of bones, can help promote regeneration.
The slow, gradual pulling pressure stresses living tissues, thus stimulating them to regenerate and grow. This was described as the “law of tension stress.”
This involves the insertion of metal staples into a long bone’s growth plate. Epiphysiodesis isn’t actually a technique to help you grow taller. It is intended to correct situations where a leg is growing longer than the other.
The growth plate is restrained on both sides with the aim of preventing further development. With the growth in one leg restrained, the hope is that the shorter leg would, thus, be allowed enough time to grow and be equal to the longer one.
For angular corrections, a technique known as hemi-epiphysiodesis is used. Only one side of the growth plate is tethered in this case. Growth continues on one side while it is halted on the other.
This describes surgical bone cutting. Osteotomy is a potentially painful and often inevitable part of limb lengthening.
After a cut to the bone, surgeons then fix the right devices in place, depending on the goal of the procedure.
Surgical cut performed within a joint is known as an intra-articular osteotomy. The one done outside the joint, on the bone, is called extra-articular osteotomy.
This technique can be performed regardless of whether lengthening is done or not. It is used for correction of bone deformities that don’t require lengthening.
Devices Used in Limb Lengthening Surgery
The main devices used for carrying out limb-lengthening procedures are known as fixators. They are of two types: external fixators and internal fixators.
Ilizarov made use of an external fixator for the procedures that he performed. He is credited with inventing this type of device.
An external fixator is a device that surgeons attach to the bone using wires and pins to extend and support the limb. It helps to pull apart bone segments mechanically, thus promoting lengthening.
There are different types of external fixators. They include the following:
Ilizarov ring fixator – This device comprises of rings with varying diameters. Surgeons make use of cross K-wires to secure it. Ilizarov ring fixators are effective for gradual limb lengthening or deformity corrections. The main issue is that their use is typically accompanied by significant pain.
Tailor spatial frame – This circular device is a modification of the Ilizarov external fixator. The metal frame features two rings connecting with six telescopic struts. Use of computer software makes these devices perfect for performing complex corrections.
Monolateral fixator – Introduced by Dr. Heinz Wagner in 1978, this kind is used on a side of the bone. Monolateral external fixators are attached to the bone with the aid of conical or tapered half-pins.
Also known as an implantable lengthening nail or intramedullary nail, an internal fixator is a type of rod that surgeons place inside the bone for limb lengthening or deformity corrections.
The first kind to be used by most surgeons in the United States was called the Intramedullary Skeletal Kinetic Distractor (ISKD). But this internal lengthening nail is no longer as popular in the country due to the high incidence of irregular distraction.
PRECICE internal fixators appear to be more preferred by surgeons these days. These devices feature an expandable rod with a magnetic gear system on the inside. An external remote control relying on a magnet is used to lengthen the rod inside the bone.
Some procedures combine both internal and external fixation. For instance, a technique brings together osteotomy, an external fixator, and an intramedullary rod.
What is the Surgery Like?
A limb-lengthening surgery typically begins with an osteotomy. Your surgeon first makes an incision (a cut) in your skin. He then proceeds to surgically cut your bone.
That definitely sounds painful and possibly unbearable already. General anesthesia is often needed so that a patient doesn’t feel pain while the procedure is on.
After cutting a bone, your surgeon separates it and fixes the appropriate fixation device in place. It is after this is done that the growth of new bone can commence.
Patients typically stay in the hospital for about a couple of days following the surgery. During this time, they are taught the right thing to do while the process is ongoing.
Bone lengthening starts days after the surgery. Your surgeon would ideally wait until callus, or new bone forms at the point of bone cutting before attempting to lengthen.
There are basically two phases in the lengthening process, namely: distraction and consolidation.
This refers to the period in which the actual lengthening takes place. It is the time after bone cutting and fixation when your surgeon gradually adjusts the lengthening device.
The broken bone is separated by a length of about one millimeter a day. During this phase, you’d also need to do physical therapy every day.
After attaining the desired or ideal length, the fixator is left alone with no further adjustments made. This is the consolidation phase.
Your surgeon stops making further adjustments to allow the new bone formed to harden.
The amount of time a person spends in this phase is dependent on their age. Children typically spend less time per centimeter of lengthening, compared to adults.
How Much Can You Add to Your Height?
Most people who had successful limb-lengthening surgeries were able to add about 2-3 inches to their height. This falls in the range of what professionals would consider being ideal and feasible.
However, there are reports of some people adding more than 2-3 inches to their height. It is not uncommon for surgeons in Korea to promise gains of up to 5 inches.
Limb-lengthening surgery is the only option that most medical professionals agree can make people grow taller after puberty.
How Much Does it Cost?
Apart from being a procedure not intended for the faint-hearted, leg-lengthening surgery is expensive. You can expect to part with thousands of dollars to have one.
In the United States, for instance, prices start from about $68,000 for bilateral femur lengthening. That doesn’t include certain other costs.
The actual amount you should be prepared to spend depending on what type of fixator would be used. The desired length and focal leg bones also influence costs.
One of the best centers offering this procedure currently charges $280,000 for increasing length by up to 16 cm! The surgery involves lengthening of both the femur and tibia using PRECICE fixators.
Drugs aren’t always included in cost estimates. If you’d be traveling for the procedure, you need to have additional money for travel, accommodation, foods and other needs.
Insurance Coverage for Limb Lengthening Surgery
It is common for experts to describe this procedure as cosmetic. Sadly, what that means is that your insurer will not cover payment if you are willing to dare it.
This is a major factor that holds back most people desperate enough to undergo limb-lengthening surgery. You’d have to take care of every cost, including that of medication, out of pocket.
Traveling Abroad for Cheaper Procedure
Some people do travel outside the U.S. to have this surgery in countries with cheaper rates. Syria, Thailand, Ukraine, China, India, and Russia are some of these other countries.
Prices seem to be especially low in India. There, you may be able to spend less than $4,000 to add about 2-3 inches to your limb length.
The procedure also appears to be cheaper in some places in Europe, compared to America.
But caution is advised when looking to go overseas to have limb-lengthening surgery. It requires a certain level of expertise, which may not be existent in some countries offering cheaper rates.
It is common knowledge that the U.S. is probably the best place when it comes to the safety of procedures.
If you have no idea of where to look when traveling abroad for the surgery, you run the risk of being operated on by quacks. You may need to pay to correct complications from such a procedure as well.
Best Centers and Doctors
As stated in the previous section, it is vital to have an idea of the right place to go. This can be hard for some patients to know. We can help with some suggestions.
It appears one of the best places you can have limb-lengthening surgery in the U.S., and even in the entire world, is the Paley Orthopedic & Spine Institute in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Professor Ilizarov was one of the key persons who trained the center’s medical director, Dr. Dror Paley. The internationally recognized expert in limb lengthening and reconstruction reportedly introduced the Ilizarov procedure to the U.S. and Canada in the 1980s.
The Paley Orthopedic & Spine Institute says some patients do come to it for corrections of complications from limb lengthening surgery done elsewhere.
Some of the other notable centers for having the procedure include:
- AdventHealth Orthopedic Institute, Orlando
- LifeBridge International Center for Limb Lengthening (ICLL), Baltimore
- Mayo Clinic’s Limb Lengthening and Regeneration Clinic
- The Russian Ilizarov Scientific Center for Restorative Traumatology and Orthopaedics, Russia
- B. L. Kapur Memorial Hospital, India
- Beijing Institute of External Skeletal Fixation Technology, China
- Lengthening Deformity Center, Syria
- Vejthani Height Clinic, Thailand
- BONAMED Medical Center, Ukraine
Apart from Dr. Paley, the list of recommended surgeons who perform this procedure includes the following (countries, where they work, are in parenthesis):
- John Herzenberg (USA)
- Janet Conway (USA)
- J. Dean Coley (USA)
- Shabab Mahboubian (USA)
- Svetlana Ilizarov (USA)
- Vladimir Shevtsov (Russia)
- Alexander Baranov (Russia)
- Amar Sarin (India)
- Milind Chaudhary (India)
- Hetao Xia (China)
- Halong Bai (China)
- Maurizio Catagni (Italy)
- Arshak Mirzoyan (Armenia)
- Wagner Nogueira da Silva (Brazil)
What are the Risks Involved in Limb Lengthening Surgery?
Merely imagining this height-enhancing procedure is enough to know that it would come with some risks. So, what are the likely ones?
Pain is a major issue in this surgery. Of course, you may not feel it while the procedure is on due to the use of anesthetics. The onset afterward could possibly make you wish you never had it.
As with other types of surgery, there is a risk of infections. This is more likely to be an issue when you sacrifice expertise and safety for cost saving.
There is a significant risk of complications from limb-lengthening surgery. You could suffer neurovascular injury. The damage could lead to permanent loss of limb function.
The procedure puts you at risk of issues such as acute limb compartment syndrome, deep vein thrombosis (a blood clot within a deep vein) and pulmonary embolism (blockage of arteries in your lungs).
Another discouraging thing is that you’d have to pay to correct complications. You may end up paying even more than what you paid for the original surgery to have this done.
Let’s say you are lucky not to experience any complications. You should still expect to be unable to stand on your feet for some time.
For several months following the procedure, you will not be able to put weight on the newly formed bone. Expect unbearable pain if you dared. You will essentially depend on other people to get many things done.
Safer Options for Increasing Height
It is obvious that limb-lengthening surgery is not something for the faint of heart. Thankfully, there are other safer options you can consider for increasing your height. These are not only less likely to come with risks but are also significantly cheaper.
A healthy, balanced diet is not only good for good health; it can also help you grow taller. You need the right amount of proteins, calcium, minerals, and carbohydrates to attain your maximum height potential.
A major way good diet helps is with regard to the production of human growth hormone (HGH).
Therefore, you may benefit from including foods such as milk, cheese, fish, beans, nuts and seeds in your diet. Fruits and green vegetables are also important. Other helpful foods for height include those rich in vitamins A, B and C as well as iron, zinc, and phosphorus.
This can be beneficial partly because of the effects it has on the release of HGH. The levels of this naturally occurring substance are usually high during or after exercise. HGH is a major determinant of height in humans.
Another way you can benefit is that some forms help to stretch the bones in your spine. This can be useful for better expressing your height. Examples of this type of exercises include hanging, pelvic shift and cobra stretch.
Good seven to nine hours of sleep every night can also make a difference to your height. This enables your body to refresh properly. More importantly, the release of growth hormone is believed to be highest when you are in deep sleep.
Some people also take HGH injections because of the hormone’s ability to enhance growth and height.
We need to mention that you are more likely to get desired results with these safer options if your growth plates are still open. Otherwise, they might not help so much and limb-lengthening may appear the only solution.
- Cosmetic lower limb lengthening by Ilizarov apparatus: what are the risks?
- How You Can grow taller After Puberty
- Limb Lengthening Techniques | Pediatric Orthopaedic Society of North America (POSNA) (https://posna.org/Physician-Education/Study-Guide/Limb-Lengthening-Techniques)
- Limb Lengthening Surgery: Internal Lengthening Device (for Parents) – KidsHealth (https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/limb-lengthen-internal.html)