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Leg Extension Surgery: A Legitimate Option?

by Maggie McGee

Leg Extension Surgery: A Legitimate Option?

Leg lengthening is a cosmetic procedure designed to give patients a few extra inches of height. It was originally intended to correct childhood leg length abnormalities and to aid victims of dwarfism. Recently, physicians have been implementing the surgery to add height for individuals of Constitutional Short Stature (those who are in the bottom fifth percentile of height in their region and display no deformities common with dwarfism).

A leg lengthening surgery is much more complex, costly, and painful than most other cosmetic procedures. In fact, very few doctors offer this surgery, and those that do typically require that patients go through a psychological evaluation prior to the surgery as a means of determining whether or not the patient is capable of coping with the mental aspect of the recovery process.

The basic leg lengthening procedure is constituted of four stages:

  • Preparation - This is the stage during which the patient gets acquainted with the procedure, its demands, and the physician.
  • Surgery – The operation breaking the tibia and fibula bones both legs. An external fixator device (commonly known as an ilizarov), is attached to each half of each severed bone.
  • Lengthening – The fixator device is designed to stretch the halves of the bones further apart as new bone grows in the spaces between. Patients typically undergo 1-2 hours of physical therapy each day to ensure that bones don’t get stiff. Furthermore, individuals are cautioned from putting weight on the bones and are confined to a wheelchair for the duration of the lengthening process. The ending process yields approximately 2-3 inches of added height.
  • Strengthening – Following the lengthening process, the patient is confined to a wheelchair for an additional 3-6 months while the bones become strong enough to bear full body weight. Physical therapy is reduced to approximately three times a week. Once the bones have regained full strength, an operation is preformed to remove the fixator device (used to keep bones properly aligned after the lengthening process). A cast is recommended for the first month after the operation as an added protection to the bones.

Following the completion of these stages, the patient will begin to regain leg function.

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