Leg Lengthening Surgery : Urban Legend? Not Really…

There’s a fascinating article on Men.Style.Com (Details Magazine) focusing on Leg Lengthening surgery. This is a surgery where the bones of the legs are sawed in half and then gradually allowed to spread apart as new bone grows between the two broken halves. It’s called the Ilizarov technique, and has been used for healing fractures for years. It’s only recently making news as a technique for making a person taller. The article describes the experiences of several men who have undergone the procedure, some with good, yet others with disastrous results. It’s usually performed in other countries such as China and Germany and costs anywhere between $10,000 (cut your legs in half and then chain you to a bed) to $200,000 (they do the same but give you a sandwich too).

Obviously I do not advocate this procedure. Although bone lengthening surgeries are done quite commonly in plastic surgery to treat facial deformities, these are strictly in reconstructive terms. In one syndrome, called hemifacial microsomia, the affected person has one half of their jaw which is underdeveloped. Lengthening can be done of the bone to improve the appearance and function of their jaw. Unfortunately, bone lengthening is a tedious process which can result in a major complication like osteomyelitis (infection of the bone).

In addition, I caution all my patients to be very wary of having a medical procedure performed in another country, since their training and certification processes are different that in the States, and if you were to develop a complication you might be in a big heap of a mess (both medically and financially). If you really want to be taller, learn from Tom Cruise and wear some platform shoes…at least when you’re out with your much taller wife.

Thanks for reading,

Michigan-based Plastic Surgeon

Anthony Youn, M.D.

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Posted in: Plastic Surgery News


Responses:

  1. “China and Germany”? Not quite an adequate comparison don’t you think? Of course if you have any evidence that such a risky procedure is in general done more commonly for cosmetic reasons in western europe or Germany in particular then in the US, could you maybe give a quick pointer to that? Also, although you say you would not advocate such a procedure, what is the “official” view on that, e.g. is it generally legal/illegal to perform this type of surgery (for cosmetic reasons) (meaning there is a national regulatory body that allows/forbids it) or is it just that surgeons can perform at will in the US and just you wouldn’t, then how do you arrive at the conclusion that these surgeries are performed abroad an not simply in the US, also I would like to know why you believe a western european surgeon would perform such a surgery, under conditions (e.g. purely cosmetic) that you wouldn’t?

    Comment by flo on June 22, 2008 at 10:34 pm

  2. I saw this procedure on a documentary about Little People last year. It showed a girl that had her legs then arms lengthened to help her live in everyday life. It was quite amazing. She eventually ended up being around 5′ & you could barely tell except for the cranial features associated with the condition.

    It’s quite controversial in their community. Quite like the Coclear Implant is controversial in the deaf community.

    Comment by Anonymous on June 24, 2008 at 10:40 am

  3. Flo
    I do not think it is illegal to perform this surgery if a person is a licensed physician. That’s how dubious doctors perform mesotherapy and fat-melting injections without breaking the law. I think this extreme surgery is not performed in the States because it usually needs to be performed in a hospital, with the major recovery involved, and most hospitals will not take on that type of crazy liability. Other surgeries that nutty surgeons can perform in their offices (ENT’s doing breast augs for example) are fair game…

    Comment by Dr. Tony Youn on June 24, 2008 at 10:13 pm

  4. ew ew ew !

    how is it used to heal fractures, though?

    Comment by iowa on June 28, 2008 at 5:37 pm

  5. First of all, I like your blog very much.
    That beeing said, I wonder how I, as a german physician (traumatology) by the way, ought to understand the “China and Germany” thing. China is a developing country and Germany is a country with a long and successful history in medical treatment and research. Helping people get taller is in no way more or less unnecessary than any other surgery performed purely for cometic reasons. So what’s the problem? Every surgery performed has it’s risks and patients are told that before, so if they take the risk, they should do it in a “proper” country, I think. I wouldn’t have any surgery performed in china….

    @yishui: If one bone is shorter than the other after a fracture, this method is used to adjust the length of the legs for example.

    Comment by Greg on June 30, 2008 at 9:36 am

  6. Why is leg lengthening the problem? Shouldn’t a person have the right to make their body taller? All types of cosmetic surgery faced questions at the begining and now we fully accept them Don’t be a hypocrite

    Comment by Anonymous on July 22, 2008 at 9:53 pm

  7. Anon-
    The leg lengthening surgery is a very gruesome one, and that’s why there are extremely few surgeons who would perform this. Plus, the risks are quite extreme. There is a reason why we don’t do other extreme surgeries, such as rib removal as well.

    Comment by Dr. Tony Youn on July 24, 2008 at 8:27 pm

  8. I just ran across this blog researching a surgery a family member just had. He is 12 and one fibia was 2 1/2 inches shorter then the other. The surgery was performed at a Shriners Hospital here in the states and he’s doing great. Although he did suffer with a great deal of pain in the first few weeks after the surgery. It wasn’t a decision they made lightly. Yes he is only 12, but that is probably the reason they agreed to the surgery.
    I had never heard of this surgery until it became an option for him. Thanks for writting about it and letting people know what its all about.

    Comment by Anonymous on September 4, 2008 at 5:28 pm

  9. I have had this procedure done at 6 years old. I gained almost 2 inches in my left femur.4 years later I had my right leg growth stunted so that I could not grow any taller. I This is a very painful procedure and I can understand why the Dr.s don’t want to perform this just for cosmetics. I wish the best for anyone considering getting this procedure.

    Comment by Anonymous on February 17, 2009 at 2:30 pm

  10. people should get what they want, and that's what democracy is about.
    if they are short and they think having the leg lengthening surgery can improve their lives, then they should do it.
    fyi, it's legal to perform leg lengthening in JHU's hospital in baltimore, maryland for either medical or cosmetic reason, it's juse really really costly.

    Comment by Anonymous on August 16, 2009 at 4:37 pm

  11. http://www.leglengtheningclinic.com

    Leg lengthening surgery has come a long way… it is now possible to gain 10cm of grow in three months, while maintaining full weight bearing activity.

    Comment by Leg Lengthening Clinic on March 15, 2011 at 5:20 pm

  12. I agree with you doctor. Yes there are many cosmetic surgeries but this kind has the worst risk… it can and has crippled people for life. It’s not worth it for a cosmetic surgery reason. And yes they do do this cosmetic leg lengthening in the USA. Dr. Paley has done a few hundred of these cosmetic LL procedures. He was doing them in Florida for many years and now does them in Maryland. It costs about $100,000 not including pain mess. This is purely greed. The price and the availability of LL as a procedure. And these doctors will lie to your face and tell you they’ve never resulted in crippling, yet if you do deep research you will find people that have been crippled…limps, wheelchair, arthritis, long term chronic infectipns, major knee problems, and shortening after the lengthening. What doctor would accept that risk and continue doing Cosmetic Limb Lengthening? That is unethical. To read experiences of people’s nightmare with LL surgeries, go to makemetaller dot org. And Google Dr. Paley and Janice Limb Lengthening.

    Comment by georga on January 23, 2015 at 5:45 pm

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