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Limb lengthening surgery grows in popularity for cosmetic reasons

Doctors say they can typically add three inches of height during limb lengthening surgery, which is a months-long process.
Limb lengthening surgery grows in popularity for cosmetic reasons
Posted at 2:39 PM, May 08, 2023

More people are inquiring about limb lengthening surgeries to become taller, according to doctors.

"I've been getting more inquiries than in the past, and I think that's because there are more people who have gotten the procedure done at this point and those people, a lot of them have told their stories on social media," said Dr. Taylor Reif, a surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery. He focuses on limb lengthening and complex reconstruction.

How does limb lengthening surgery work? Traditionally, it's a surgery used on patients with unequal leg lengths.

The first part of the process involves breaking the femur or tibia bone in the leg.

"Slowly, over time, you would extend that break in the bone that you made to create a gap," said Dr. Anthony Catanzano, an assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at Duke Health. "We can typically lengthen the extremity about 20 percent of its total length."

The process isn't easy. Surgery only takes a couple hours and patients stay in the hospital for one to two days after, but it's the weeks and months after that that are spent lengthening the bone.

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"While that bone is distracting over time, we actually have patients put limited amount of weight on that leg," Dr. Catanzano said.

During distraction — or expansion of the length of the bone — if both legs are undergoing the procedure, the patient has to limit mobility or use a wheelchair in most cases.

"It does take a lot of time. It is kind of a 6 month process. And it's expensive," Dr. Reif said.

While the risks and technology have improved, doctors say there are some things to consider.

"There's really not a ton of risk in the surgery … everything is done through small incisions. The amount of bleeding is very manageable. I think people are really worried about pain, but I think most people are surprised that surgery is less painful than they think it's going to be," Dr. Reif said.

Results also depend on a patient's base height.

"The shorter you are, the harder it is to lengthen you the full three inches that we generally use as a baseline," Dr. Reif said.

Not only does it cost time and money, but doctors say a lot of stretching is required as well so muscles and tendons don't get tight during the process.

"This should be a relatively rare procedure in terms of doing this for stature purposes," Dr. Reif said.

Patients could technically grow up to six inches if the surgery is done on all four bones, the femur and tibia in both legs.

"Certainly you'll see people out there who have grown six inches because they lengthened three inches in both their femurs and their tibias," Dr. Reif said.

"For patients and people that are debating this surgery, really talk to your surgeon about what the expectation is, how much are you expecting to grow," Dr. Catanzano said.

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