Height-Increasing Surgery: Is It Dangerous?

Height-increasing surgery is a procedure for a progressive lengthening of the limbs. It's a slow process, which can cause pain and discomfort.
Height-Increasing Surgery: Is It Dangerous?
Leonardo Biolatto

Written and verified by the doctor Leonardo Biolatto.

Last update: 18 July, 2022

Height-increasing surgery is surgery performed to lengthen the limbs. But, despite what you might think from the name, having a short stature isn’t the main reason to have it done.

In general, height-increasing surgery is usually recommended for people who have asymmetries in the limbs. This can lead to numerous joint problems, associated with low back pain, and chronic knee and hip pain, among others. Correction may therefore be prescribed.

However, we must be aware that it is a slow recovery process and is often very painful; in addition, the technique is complex and may involve certain risks. In this article, we explain everything you need to know about it.

Height-increasing surgery: what it is and why it is done

It’s officially known as bone elongation technique. It’s a surgical procedure that’s carried out on the bones of the extremities.

Although it also allows people with a short stature to increase their height, its main purpose has to do with correcting problems such as bone deformities or dysmetria (differences in length between the limbs), as well as bone loss due to trauma or tumors.

In general, apart from those mentioned above, this procedure is recommended in the following cases:

  • Skeletal dysplasia: This is a disease caused by different congenital defects, where there’s an alteration in bone growth. This is usually the cause behind deformed limbs and short stature.
  • Osteogenesis imperfecta: A genetic disorder in which the bones are more fragile than normal. This causes them to fracture easily in the event of any trauma.
  • Also, height-increasing surgery can be used to treat achondroplasia.

Bone lengthening can be performed in children and adults. However, it’s essential for the patient is healthy, and free of infections and metabolic diseases.

You may be interested in: When Do Men and Woman Stop Growing?

How is the bone elongation procedure performed?

As implied, this technique allows for elongation or stretching of the extremities. Internal lengthening devices are usually used for this purpose.

These are a type of extensible rod, with a system of gears that is placed inside the bone (either the tibia or the femur), depending on the extremity.

On the other hand, an external fixator is placed on the limb in which the bone lengthening is being performed. In this procedure, needles or screws are used through the skin and muscles.

Also, a device is added to the skin to control the extension of the rod, in order to slowly and gradually lengthen the limb. It’s important that the fixator is progressively lengthened daily.

These devices are maintained for a long time, depending on how many inches you wish to extend. Usually, they are kept on for at least 3 months.

In general, the steps to follow during surgery are as follows:

  1. The limb is anesthetized or general anesthesia is used. Thus, when the incision is made on the skin, the patient feels no pain.
  2. The lengthening device is placed and the bone to be lengthened is cut. In this way, a space is created in which new bone mass will grow.
  3. Screws are used to fix the device and it’s adapted to the remote control that works with magnets.
  4. Finally, the wound is closed with sutures.
Height-increasing surgery.
This surgical procedure is complex, as it involves stimulating the formation of new bone tissue.

Postoperative care

Height-increasing surgery will produce pain and muscle spasms. Strong medication for pain will be required throughout the recovery process.

Both the patient and caregivers should be familiar with the entire wound and device care protocol. This is essential both to avoid infections and mechanism failures, which can compromise the success of the procedure.

Also, during the recovery time, while the bones are lengthening, it won’t be possible to walk normally: the limb or limbs that are being lengthened will be practically unusable. It’s essential to avoid putting weight on them.

As a result, the person won’t be able to carry out their normal activities, but will have to depend on someone else. It’s common for them to need help for all simple daily tasks, such as dressing or showering. Therefore, good psychological support is recommended to cope with this situation.

It’s also extremely important to follow the instructions on how to use the elongation device, even though it’s usually programmed for each person in a specific way.

It’s also necessary to emphasize that visits to the doctor will be frequent. During these visits, x-rays will most likely be taken to check the condition of the bones.

In addition to this, special attention must be paid to nutrition, in the sense of having an adequate intake of vitamins and minerals to nourish the bone in formation.

Finally, at the end of the recovery phase, physical therapy, stretching, and strengthening exercises, including motor re-education, will be indispensable in order to use the limbs again.

Results of height-increasing surgery

Physio on the knee.
Rehabilitation is an unavoidable step in the recovery, since the immobilization is prolonged.

After the height-increasing surgery, a long process and a lot of patience are required. It isn’t a procedure with immediate results; the postoperative period can last up to 3 months.

However, bone elongation isn’t perfect. Growth can’t be expected to be on demand. In fact, each bone has a maximum elongation. The tibia can lengthen about 4 centimeters (1.6 inches) and, in the case of the femur, it can extend 6 centimeters (2.4 inches)

Possible risks

If the person decides to go through with it, it’s essential to go to a specialist in this technique. Any failure can seriously damage health. That’s why it’s always necessary to choose the right person to perform it.

Although it’s quite safe, surgery to increase height also entails risks. One of these is a fat embolism, which consists of the fact that certain fat particles that make up the bone can be released and obstruct a blood vessel.

This is a risk that is assumed in any fracture or orthopedic surgery. Other similar complications are deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism.

On the other hand, premature bone healing can also occur after surgery to increase stature. In this case, the bone tissue closes prematurely, making further lengthening impossible.

Failure of consolidation can also occur. Contrary to what we have just explained, new bone may not form in the space created for it. This is associated with low vitamin D levels and smoking.

Considerations on height-increasing surgery

Before performing this type of surgery, it’s vital that you take certain aspects into account. First of all, it’s important to be aware that this technique causes pain, discomfort, and disability.

It’s also a slow process that requires patience. You have to expect to spend several days in hospital. After that, it requires a long period of time during which you’ll need to be inactive and at rest.

In children, this surgery will, in all likelihood, require them to leave school during the whole process. Thus, the ideal thing is to try to continue with their education from home and not to neglect their studies. In this regard, it’s usually recommended to ask for help from a special teacher.

Not everyone will be able to undergo and withstand this surgical procedure. It’s necessary to be very willing and disciplined, as following the doctor’s instructions will be essential in order to obtain good results and avoid complications.

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