Height enhancement surgery (sometimes known as limb lengthening) is the way to correct a short leg or become taller. The surgery itself takes only a few hours. Recovery, however, does take several months. Here's what you can expect from height enhancement surgery and the recovery period.
Congenital problems, injuries and infections can leave people with one leg shorter than the other. Some people have growth limitations due to nutrition or hormonal influences, while others are shorter than the average simply because of their genetic inheritance. Height surgery was originally developed to correct problems with leg length, but is now used cosmetically to help people attain greater height. This can be particularly important for men, in whom short stature can put them at a disadvantage on the job or in relationships.
How It Works
Limb lengthening surgery takes advantage of bones' natural healing process. When a fracture occurs, the bone can rebuild itself by laying down new tissue which eventually becomes calcified and hardens, creating a “scar” known as a callus. In the surgery, the bone is actually cut, and adjustable metal rods are place inside the bone or on the outside of the leg and connected to the bone with metal pins. Each day, the patient adjusts the rods very slightly. The tension causes the bone to separate a tiny amount and the body builds new bone, muscle and nerve tissue in the gap.
About the Surgery
The surgery is usually performed in a hospital. Many orthopedic surgeons prefer to use internal adjustable devices as they have a lower risk of infection and are much more tolerable. The procedure takes place while the patient is anesthetized.
The surgery is performed with a general anesthetic, so you are completely relaxed during the procedure. The bone to be lengthened is cut and an adjustable metal rod is inserted into the bone. The most common site for this operation is the two bones of the lower legs, but occasionally the upper thigh bone or femur is used. Most patients can go home within two days of the surgery.
Recovery after height enhancement has two distinct phases. The first phase is known as distraction. This occurs as the bone is very gradually pulled apart by adjusting the metal frames. In most cases, the patient adjusts the frame four times a day, for a total of one millimeter (about .04 inches) each day. In addition, any alignment problems can be corrected during this adjustment. In the second phase, called consolidation, the bone thickens, becomes stronger and the healing process is completed. At that point, the metal devices are removed.
Physical therapy is a vital component of recovery from surgery. First, the patient must be taught how to walk with crutches. During distraction, patients walk with crutches to protect the healing bone. During consolidation, patients can bear more weight. Weight-bearing at this stage strengthens the bone. In addition, most patients need to develop the muscles in their legs – this is especially true when the surgery occurs because one leg is shorter than the other, as the muscles are not properly balanced. Physical therapy also helps keep the joints mobile. Low-current electromagnetic stimulation or ultrasound are also used to promote bone healing.
In addition to physical therapy, patients perform their normal daily activities. They are also encouraged to commit to a regular exercise program. Swimming is an ideal exercise because excessive weight-bearing doesn't occur, it helps strengthen all the muscles in the body and it promotes cardiovascular fitness as well as muscle strength. Stretching exercises are also beneficial.
The physical therapist will develop an exercise program best suited for each patient. Moderate walking is also encouraged, and after two to four months (depending on how the healing progresses) the patient may be encouraged to engage in light sport activities. Patients who are highly motivated and carefully follow the instructions of the orthopedic specialist and physical therapy typically heal faster and have better results.
The healing process is monitored through assessing the patient's symptoms and through X-rays to check the bone healing. For those who are having cosmetic height surgery, pain doesn't seem to be a major problem in most cases, but medications are available to help deal with discomfort if it occurs. A healthy diet is very important, and should include plenty of protein and vital minerals like calcium, phosphorus and magnesium to support the healing process. Scarring from the procedure is minimal, and by the time healing is complete, the scars are not usually noticeable. Each patient heals at his or her own pace; children heal faster than adults – usually in half the time. Most adults take about six months for full healing.
Being shorter than average need not be a life sentence. Height enhancement surgery may help you gain as much as six inches in height. If you feel you would benefit from this procedure and have always wanted to be taller, contact a qualified orthopedic specialist to see if height enhancement surgery is right for you.