What to Expect From A Limb Lengthening Operation

by Barb Tate

What to Expect From A Limb Lengthening Operation

Welcome to the 21st century! Have you always dreamt about being more vertical without having to step out in your 2 inch heeled boots? It might seem a little fantastical for the average person, but limb lengthening operations are real and administered by surgeons in the U.S.. The surgery, also called symmetric extended limb lengthening, has typically been reserved for people with dwarfism or children with uneven leg measurements, but now, despite the nature of the procedure and recovery, patients are now seeking it out for purely cosmetic reasons.

Men with short stature are characteristically the largest demographic without dwarfism requesting these procedures. Relax, short folk, you are in no danger of being strapped to a large piece of wood with a crank like in Medieval times! Unfortunately, there are parallels to that tortuous treatment: limb lengthening is quite rigorous and requires prolonged treatments. Much like natural growth throughout your life, the lengthening comprehensively takes a long time. In three months, you should reach your desired height. But, how does one arrive at this destination?

What is the procedure and recovery like?

Limb lengthening hurts. It not only is physically intensive, but requires almost a daily surgeon visit and demanding post-procedure physical therapy. Initially, the doctor breaks the shin bone and implant a telescope-like rod (in other instances specially constructed nails and braces are implemented). As time goes on, the physician lengthens this retractable rod 1 millimeter every day. As the bone gradually stretches, the body will begin to react (in other ways other than just "Wow, this is painful."). While the bone is stretched, new bone will form. Additionally; nerves, arteries, and skin will also begin to fill the open spaces. This process requires months of careful attention and an aforementioned round of intense physical therapy. Daily life during convalescence is similarly rough- recovering patients are restricted to wheel chairs and are not allowed pain killers in some cases. Even if the procedure is performed flawlessly, and recovery is quick and healthy, the patient will still experience a lot of pain.

Do patients really grow that much?

After all the milliliters add up, patients typically report 2 to 3 inches of increased height. In some (much rarer) circumstances, there have been some patients that 'grew' 4 to 6 inches. As with many highly specific and rarely performed surgeries, limb lengthening is not considered completely safe. In fact, complications that arise during and after the procedure are frequent: nerve damage, hip problems, recurring aches, uneven lengthening, and even paralysis. Because of the dangers and pains associated with the procedure, a thorough psychological evaluation before and after surgery is often administered.

Limb lengthening is clearly not an operation for anyone- even if they do have dwarfism, uneven limbs, or are just naturally very short. If you or someone you know is interested in undergoing this or any new and proven procedures like calf implants or pectoral implants please contact us to schedule a consultation with a doctor to discuss your options further or search for a board certified surgeon in your area.

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Dr. Mark Schusterman and Dr. Sanaz Harirchian

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