Most men wish they were taller. Leg-lengthening surgery (also referred to as limb-lengthening) is a radical new cosmetic procedure that can make short peoples’ wish to be taller come true. A growing number of people (mostly men) are pursuing this type of operation in the US. Leg-lengthening is gaining in popularity because it gives guys (or gals) the chance to gain a few inches in height.

But some say the pain is not worth the gain!

It’s actually akin to the medieval torture stretch rack; the surgery is not only wildly controversial, it’s an excruciatingly tedious and painful process. Leg-lengthening surgery is banned in some countries, but is highly popular within a few nations. China, for example, embraces this cosmetic procedure, probably because many personal and job advertisements in China often quote minimum height expectations. In Korea, a country where height is crucial to success, it’s reported that up to 600 limb-lengthening surgeries are performed each year, along with the promise that patients will gain 5 inches in height. In the US, leg-lengthening surgery costs about $85,000 and only a few American doctors perform the procedure. That’s why an increasing number of medical tourists travel to Russia to undergo this cosmetic enhancement, where it costs around $16,000.

Generally, the surgery can add 2 or 3 inches to a patient’s height, although a New York man using the pseudonym “Apotheosis” reported that he “grew” 6 inches as a result of his cosmetic surgery. (His original height was 5’6″.)

Originally, such an operation was reserved for people with severe birth deformities, for children who were born with one leg longer than the other, for people whose limbs were damaged in accidents, and for dwarfism. But today, some people (mostly men) are seeking it out for purely cosmetic reasons. Men of just-below-average height who undergo this type of cosmetic procedure are suffering from height dysphoria; they’re unhappy with their natural height.

Leg-lengthening surgery was pioneered in Russia, in 1951, by Soviet Professor Gavrill Illizarov in order to treat World War II veterans with leg injuries. The Pentagon is currently funding a study investigating its use for leg trauma.

The process of leg-lengthening is not for the faint of heart. A doctor breaks the patient’s tibia and fibula in two and inserts a telescoping rod directly into the cartilage. Over a period of about 3 months, the rod gradually pulls the bones apart, about 1 millimeter a day. As the leg bones are stretched apart, the body’s natural healing response is to grow new bone, nerves, arteries, and skin to renew the area and replace the gap. The bone break requires strategic precision and the bone must be stretched apart slowly enough so that new bone continues to grow, but fast enough so that it does not heal too quickly. After this 3-month process, a very demanding physical therapy regimen is necessary, as the bone can take up to 5 months to heal properly.

Although pain killers are administered, doctors can’t prescribe anti-inflammatory agents because they may inhibit bone growth. Patients do receive pain killers via injection, but there is a limit to the dosage in terms of tolerability and safety both before the operation and during the physical therapy process, which can be quite painful.

The journal International Orthopaedics reported on a 2006 study that found that leg-lengthening surgery can be fraught with frequent complications and risks, including stretching of the blood vessels and nerves surrounding the broken bone, nerve damage, uneven lengthening, hip problems, and even paralysis. Yet some doctors claim the procedure isn’t any more dangerous than many other operations, with a slim chance of patients experiencing long-term consequences as a result. However, surgeons say that patients do need to be physically and psychologically prepared for the ordeal. Doctors also recommend that patients stay active during their recovery as a way to help manage the pain.

One patient pointed out a rationale for the surgery, saying that the operation is for the same reason people with crooked teeth get braces: to improve their appearance and feel better about themselves. And there are success stories, as one happy patient reports: “When I walk down the street, I’m perceived differently by the world, for the rest of my life, you know, I am who I want to be now.” Another patient revealed that being under 5 feet tall previously made him feel sad, philosophizing it was like “a void inside me–an emptiness in my heart.” Another patient scheduled to undergo the operation soon says that he doesn’t think the surgery will drastically alter his life. “We’ll see. It won’t change. The only thing I can say, it will probably be better. I’ll be taller. It’ll be nice,” he said.

It may sound like a desperate, drastic measure, but height dysphoria is one of the rare mental disorders that can actually be cured with the knife. It’s controversial, costly, and painful, but some men are undergoing this agonizing, expensive surgery that makes their legs taller and their wallet thinner in order to be statuesque.

Reference

  1. Kendall P. Limb-lengthening surgery becoming increasingly popular in Korea despite inherent dangers. Rocket News 24 website. September 3, 2013. http://en.rocketnews24.com/2013/09/03/limb-lengthening-surgery-becoming-increasingly-popular-in-korea-despite-inherent-dangers/.
  2. Leg lengthening and shortening. Medline Plus website. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002965.htm.
  3. Limb-lengthening: the ‘radical’ new plastic surgery craze. The Week website. February 27, 2012. http://theweek.com/article/index/224875/.
  4. Nip, tuck, grow! 5′ 6″ man underwent agonising leg-lengthening procedure because he wanted to be six foot tall. The Daily Mail website. February 24, 2012. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2105995/The-agonising-expensive-leg-lengthening-proceedure-surgery-patient-SIX-INCHES-taller.html.
  5. Radia K. Leg lengthening patient hopes to grow by 3.3 inches with painful procedure. ABC News website. June 21, 2013. http://abcnews.go.com/Health/leg-lengthening-patient-hopes-grow-33-inches-painful/story?id=19451057.
  6. Tan G. New Leg Lengthening Surgery Procedures: Good News! Grow Taller Report website. September 14, 2013. http://growtallerreport.com/new-leg-lengthening-surgery-procedures/.