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What is Limb Lengthening Surgery?

By Garry Crystal
Updated May 17, 2024
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Limb lengthening surgery is a relatively new type of surgery performed since the late 1980s. The surgery is mainly performed to correct differences in length between limbs. The surgery has also been used, with some controversy, to radically change the height of people born with dwarfism.

Limb lengthening surgery was originally developed over 50 years ago in Russia. It involves a procedure called an osteotomy, in which the bone that requires lengthening is cut. This is usually performed on the lower or upper leg, and devices are fixed internally or externally to stabilize the limb. Anesthesia is used during the operation to eliminate any pain.

The bone that has been cut will then be slowly pulled apart. Doing so promotes new growth where the cutting has occurred. The lengthening is achieved by causing the new bone tissue to continue growing by adjusting the stabilizing devices in length. The devices can be adjusted up to four times a day, up to a total of 1 millimeter per day in length. The pins can be continually adjusted in this manner until the desired length has been achieved.

The next step in the limb lengthening surgery is to allow the bones to bond and heal. The patient will be able to start walking on the limbs with the aid of crutches. Gradually, over time, the patient should find that he or she can put more weight on the treated areas and walk unaided. Using x-rays, the surgeon can confirm that the bones have set properly. Limb lengthening surgery usually requires a hospital stay of around two days.

Limb lengthening surgery can also be used to treat bones in the arms. People who have been born with varying limb lengths have had this surgery performed successfully. Other candidates for the surgery are people who may require limb amputation due to lack of sufficient bone tissue. The success rate of limb lengthening surgery is around 95%, and surgical complications are rare.

There has been some controversy with the limb lengthening procedure when it has been performed on people born with dwarfism. Although this type of surgery is rare, there seems to have been a lot of media attention directed towards it. Some people who have dwarfism believe that the surgery should not be performed, as dwarfism is genetic, not a medical problem.

Others think that, although surgeons claim that the limb lengthening surgery is painless and relatively risk free, this may not be the case. Some claim that the devices inserted into the leg may cause nerve damage. Bone paralysis may also occur, and there is a risk of fat emboli being released into the bloodstream.

As limb lengthening surgery is a very new type of surgery, new developments are frequently being achieved. There has just been approval for a fully implantable internal device. This should eradicate the need for external fixing devices, which may prove extremely helpful when the limb lengthening surgery is uncomplicated.

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Discussion Comments
By anon82558 — On May 06, 2010

i almost tried cosmetic surgery but didn't, thank goodness. I am also doubtful if anything works, but there's this non-surgery height clinic that's been discussed on height forums. let me know what your take is on their methods at the Limb Center.

By anon65949 — On Feb 16, 2010

I had this operation in 1983, in Sheffield Uk, to correct my legs. One leg was six inches longer than the other. I was the first in the Uk to have it done. It was a success they are just about the same length now, but it took months and months to have it done and I got a massive infection. I had to have the pins removed and put on weights for six months. I was only 13 then.

It's probably a lot better now with newer techniques. I was the one they experimented on, but it's not too bad now. I still get pain in it but it's OK now.

By nina4550 — On Feb 19, 2008


I have a knock knee deformity. My legs have been measured and there is a 1/2 inch difference between the two. I live in California and have an HMO insurance. Is there any place I can get this surgery to correct my limb length discrepancy in San Jose, California or any place nearby?

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