Height enhancement is a relatively new procedure that seems as if it’s straight out of a science fiction book. Yet, worldwide, more and more procedures are being done each year because it allows adults to gain inches in height fairly quick.
The surgery isn’t for the faint of heart, but it has helped patients grow taller, and in many cases, it’s even helped people overcome their dissatisfaction surrounding their height. The following will explain the essential facts by elaborating on the surgery, why people get the procedure, patient requirements, costs, risks involved, and even post-surgical results.
An Explanation of Height Enhancement Surgery
The basis of modern-day height increasing surgery is a process called distraction osteogenesis. This is where the surgeon cuts the outer part of either the femur (thigh bone) or the tibia (calf bone) to separate it into two parts, leaving the marrow intact. These parts are then gradually moved apart with a lengthening device over the span of months until the desired elongation is complete.
Osteogenesis means the formation of bone, and the lengthening process is known as distraction. Therefore, the development of bone by distraction is distraction osteogenesis. The healing phase after the lengthening is called consolidation, which means making something more solid.
Types of Height Surgery Fixation Devices
There are two main types of height surgery depending on whether the lengthening equipment lies inside or outside the body.
A common fixation device is the Ilizarov apparatus. It consists of circular rings placed around the legs with pins and wires threaded through the muscle over the bone. These wires connect to screws in the external apparatus, which patients turn in circles to move the two pieces of bone apart.
External methods are usually cheaper than the others, but the apparatus can be bulky and cumbersome.
Internal methods like the intramedullary nail are currently the most popular implements on the market. These latest nails include the PRECICE and STRYDE rods, with the former made of titanium and the latter of stainless steel.
These nails look like long metal rods, and the surgeon places them inside the bone marrow where an external remote controller interacts with the embedded magnets and signals the two segments of the nail to move apart.
Intramedullary nails are expensive, but patients can walk all through the lengthening and healing phases. The lack of any external apparatus also makes daily life more convenient.
Doctors also use internal and external equipment in combination, such as lengthening over the nail (LON) or lengthening and then nailing (LATN) methods. Here, a nail that has a smaller diameter than PRECICE or STRYDE is inserted during the lengthening process (LON) or after lengthening is complete (LATN). External screws attached to an external fixator still control the extension of bone.
Ultimately, the ideal method for each person is subject to their budget, their time, and the support system available to them.
Other Names for Height Enhancement Surgery
The surgery goes by many names depending on the context or who’s talking about it. The following are rough synonyms and indicate the same procedure:
- Cosmetic limb lengthening surgery
- Leg lengthening surgery
- Stature lengthening (research studies usually use this one)
- Height surgery
- Bone lengthening
Are There Requirements for Cosmetic Limb Lengthening?
Yes, the first is that the patient must be an adult since this is a voluntary, cosmetic surgery akin to plastic surgery, and adults have fully mature skeletons. At the same time, children can also receive limb lengthening to correct leg deformities or leg length discrepancies.
A mature skeleton means that the growth plates have fused. Growth plates are soft tissue or cartilage present at the ends of long bones like the femur and tibia in children and adolescents, and they allow for the formation of additional layers of bone.
When an adult has reached their final height, the growth plates harden, and height stagnates. There is no maximum height cut-off, though – it’s entirely at the doctor’s discretion.
Apart from this, patients must generally be in good health with no chronic conditions, especially those affecting the bones. They must not have addictions like smoking or drugs as these weaken the body, and good nutrition and bodily strength are necessary for the bone to heal correctly.
Good mental health is the final requirement for cosmetic leg lengthening since patients must be motivated to complete the intense physical therapy and pain that follows.
Why Do People Get Height Enhancement Surgery?
Today’s society is rife with height discrimination or heightism due to a newfound obsession regarding stature. Others see tall people as more friendly, capable, and conventionally attractive, and taller people earn more than their shorter counterparts. The average CEO is 3 inches taller than the average everyday man!
These factors lead to tall people being overall happier and reporting fewer negative emotions like anger than those with short stature. In addition, men of average or above-average height are less likely to be targets of appearance-based bullying. Many men think that increasing their height will fulfill them and give them an edge both in the professional and the dating sphere, which may be partly true. Of course, becoming tall won’t necessarily land someone a job or date, but it can surely help with confidence.
Some people might feel such severe distress about their height that they could be diagnosed with height dysphoria (height dissatisfaction). Their minds refuse to align with their bodies, and they’re unable to accept their stature. Though therapy is a good first step in these cases, individuals may also seek cosmetic limb lengthening to reduce this discontent.
At the Paley Orthopedic & Spine Institute in the US, limb lengthening can cost anywhere between $97,500 and $280,000, including physical therapy and another procedure to remove the nails.
The cheapest option is femur lengthening up to 8 cm with STRYDE, and the most expensive is combined tibia and femur lengthening up to 4 cm each with the same nail. This surgery is then repeated a year later for a height gain of up to 16 cm.
Of course, the surgery is more affordable in other countries ($12,000-$30,000), but it’s important to prioritize safety over costs.
In the UK, Care Quality Commission regulates this procedure, and its price can go up to £50,000.  These prices aren’t universal but are a good guide for estimating how much one would need to save for this surgery.
It’s important to note that cosmetic leg lengthening surgery is not covered by insurance. Yet, in rare cases, some of the auxiliary or potential complications may be within the policy coverage.
Possible Complications of Height Enhancement
If performed by a reputable and experienced doctor, leg lengthening is overwhelmingly successful. However, some complications may arise either during or shortly after the surgery.
Nerve injury occurs most frequently in tibia lengthening. The peroneal nerve of the tibia can get compressed or trapped, and this compression is diagnosed with a Pressure Sensitive Sensory Device (PSSD). If diagnosed, though, it’s easily treated with nerve decompression surgery by releasing the soft tissue around the nerve.
Fat embolisms can be fatal. Since the intramedullary nail compresses the bone marrow, fat can leak into the bloodstream and enter the lungs.
This leakage is an extremely rare complication and can be controlled with an oxygen mask if noticed in time. Still, an experienced doctor will regularly monitor the patient’s pulse and blood pressure to look out for it.
Deep Vein Thrombosis
DVT can be a side effect of any major surgery. In DVT, a blood clot occurs due to elevated blood pressure and can enter circulation, leading to pulmonary embolism. The doctor may prescribe an anticoagulant to take care of it.
Potential Side Effects
Most long-term side effects from height increasing surgery result from stiff joints and muscles. In most cases, minor surgeries or physical therapy can resolve the matter.
When the muscle around a joint is too stiff to move freely, it prevents the joint from moving. Knee, hip, and ankle contractures are the most common. The doctor can perform minor surgery to release the muscle, and physical therapy can prevent it in the future.
If the two parts of the bone are misaligned, they won’t heal properly and form a malunion. This malunion can also lead to knee misalignment, which pushes the knees outward, known as bow legs. On the other hand, it can also cause the knees to bend inward, creating knock knees.
Anterior Pelvic Tilt
If the muscles in the front of the thigh (hip flexors) are too tight and those at the back (extensors) are too weak, the hips can tilt forward, creating an anterior pelvic tilt. Patients can avoid this by keeping up with physical therapy.
Most patients (95%) make a full recovery post-surgery, although fitness enthusiasts may lose some athletic ability. Despite the risks and potential complications, most patients report a high level of satisfaction and would go through with the surgery again.
If you’re considering height enhancement surgery, make sure to keep your expectations humble, and it’s worth exploring non-surgical options as well. Remember, both are gradual processes, and significant changes in mindset or height won’t happen overnight. If your height is bothersome, please consult a healthcare professional about the available options and keep your chin up!
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