The Process of Limb Lengthening and Its Potential Challenges
A person of average height may not understand how the addition of several inches on a person's height may impact their well-being, but studies show that taller people report more positive emotions, and better chances for a higher quality of life compared to their short-stature counterparts. Thanks to limb lengthening, short people don't have to resign to fate.
What is Limb Lengthening?
People with less than average height may be able to increase their height through the process of limb lengthening. The process involves the lengthening of bones in the arms or legs by several inches to increase one's stature. It is a gradual process that allows the bones and soft tissues to increase in length slowly.
Limb lengthening can also help cure acute deformities, such as when one leg is shorter than the other, making an individual uncomfortable, and causing them low self-esteem. But in recent years, limb lengthening has become common for individuals who wish to increase their height, and join their taller counterparts in enjoying the fruits of a few more inches.
How is Limb Lengthening Done?
The process of limb lengthening requires careful attention and consideration. The doctor cuts the bone into two separate bone segments to create a distraction. This process is referred to as osteotomy and is the first step towards limb lengthening.
The doctor may require performing additional soft tissue operations to prepare the nerves and muscles for lengthening. For example, the surgeon may need to lengthen the Achilles tendons surgically so that the tibial, or shin-bone, lengthening may be easier. It may also be necessary for the doctor to apply an orthopedic lengthening device to help the bone lengthen.
Some orthopedic devices, such as the Precice nail, require insertion into the bone, while others can be applied externally, hence, the name external fixators. External orthopedic devices include the Taylor Spatial Frame.
During the distraction phase (the process of pulling apart the two bone segments gradually), a family member, or the patient themselves, adjusts the orthopedic device daily so that the bone segments pull apart at a rate of approximately 1 mm (0.04 inches) per day, though the rate may differ slightly from bone to bone.
The slow distraction makes the body constantly grow new bone and soft tissues, such as nerves, skin, blood vessels, and muscles. This process continues until the bone has grown to the desired length. The bone grows 1 inch per month, and the patient has to see the doctor regularly to ensure the bone isn't growing too fast or too slow.
The doctor can monitor the appearance of the bone to determine if distraction is too slow or too fast. In the event of an inordinate distraction speed, which the doctor can notice from the x-ray images of the bone, the doctor will take the necessary measures to correct the situation.
Then comes the consolidation phase. The regenerating bone begins to harden. Typically, 2-inch lengthening will take about 2 months but will require another 2 to 3 months for the bone to harden and become solid. This means that the patient should allow the lengthening device to stay in place for about 5 months.
During this process, the patient must stay away from any form of nicotine but eat lots of proteins and vitamins, as well as lots of mineral supplements. This diet would help the bone to solidify and become calcified.
The patient can start applying some weight on the grown leg or arm, but with the help of some crutches or a walker. This would help the bone to harden and heal. The patient can stop using them towards the end of the treatment, and begin to walk or use the arm normally.
The doctor can then remove the orthopedic lengthening device after the regenerated bone has fully consolidated. This is an outpatient surgical procedure since the patient doesn't need to stay in the hospital after the removal of the orthopedic device.
How Far Can Each Bone Be Lengthened?
A bone may lengthen to about 3 inches or fewer during each lengthening treatment. In the case of the legs, the lengthening process takes place simultaneously in the tibia and femur, to achieve a total length of 6 inches – 3 inches for the tibia, and another 3 inches for the femur.
But there are cases where extreme lengthening amounts can be achieved in a patient. For example, adults with large lengthening goals may achieve more than 3 inches of lengthening for each bone; however, this is usually reserved for people with large leg length discrepancies. It is also possible in some children who can undergo three separate lengthening processes before they reach 16 years. This is often combined with other processes, such as epiphysiodesis and deformity correction.
Potential Challenges in the Bone Lengthening Process
If patients fail to attend physical therapy sessions or do home-based exercises, they could affect their range of motion and muscle strength after completion of the lengthening procedure. Some patients may also have previous orthopedic issues, and they could come into play during the lengthening process. Other potential challenges to this procedure include the following:
- Muscle contractures leading to stiff joints
- Dislocated joints
- Pre-existing orthopedic conditions
- Additional surgical procedures for patients with pre-existing orthopedic issues
How do the lengthened arms or legs function?
People who have undergone the bone lengthening operation are able to lead normal lives. Most patients report better walking, better gait, and improved muscle strength. They are also able to maintain their range of motion, so they don't have to worry about major life changes.
But experienced surgeons committed physical therapists, support staff, and motivated patients, play a big role in the success of this procedure.
If you are looking to add a few more inches to your height and enjoy the benefits of tall people, you need to work with experienced surgeons and committed physical therapists. We have the expertise and experience of many years and can help you achieve your dream height without any complications.