Height surgery, otherwise known as limb (leg) lengthening surgery is an innovative procedure that allows adults to get taller by breaking their leg bones, slowly pulling the femur or tibias apart over the course of months, and allowing them to grow taller than before.
While some might view this as extreme, many people face serious psychological distress surrounding their height and they’re determined to gain a few inches in height even if that means surgery…
How Does Height Surgery Work?
Though this surgery is growing in popularity as a cosmetic procedure akin to plastic surgery, it has long been used to treat deformities or discrepancy in the limbs. If a person’s legs have a difference of over 4 cm in length, doctors may recommend leg lengthening surgery.
Limb lengthening or growth surgery can be divided into several stages, but here are the main 2:
Distraction – In this phase, the bone is pulled apart gradually, usually at a rate of 1 mm per day.
Consolidation – The healing phase, when the bone is allowed to rest and calcify naturally.
What Are The Types or Methods Used in Limb Lengthening Surgery?
If you want to be taller, you can go with either an external or an internal method of increasing your height based on your budget and time.
External – To increase short height an external fixator device that is partially drilled into your bones is used. This fixator will be connected to rods and wires that go through your muscles and the bone so it can pull them apart. Gradually, you will manually turn these screws and move your bone apart a tiny amount each day.
The Ilizarov apparatus is the earliest example of this method. Since the external fixators are generally bulky and non-weight bearing, it takes more time to lengthen your legs this way, but it usually costs less overall.
Internal – With this method, an internal nail, also known as an intramedullary nail, is inserted into the medullary cavity where bone marrow normally is. Then an external remote controller (ERC) creates a magnetic field which lengthens the nail and pulls the bone apart.
The newest, most popular, and most expensive internal nails are PRECICE 2 and STRYDE. Though these innovative nails or methods are more expensive, it saves you from the discomfort of wearing a bulky external fixator for almost a year. Additionally, the risk of fractures is much lower, and you can do weight-bearing activities with ease.
How Tall Can I Get with Height Surgery?
The short answer – you can gain up to 3-6 inches with height increasing surgery, otherwise known as stature lengthening or leg lengthening.
With a single stature lengthening surgery of bilateral (both legs) femurs, you can gain up to 3 inches in height but a doctor will assess the safe range of height increase on the first consultation. The doctor might even adjust the safe range throughout your lengthening phase depending on how tight you get. Pro tip, make sure you keep up on your physiotherapy protocol to avoid getting overly tight, and to lengthen as much as possible.
If you’re still not satisfied with your height, you can get a second surgery to lengthen your tibiae or shin bones another 3 inches. However, tibia surgery is more complex and riskier which makes it less common.
Who is Eligible for Surgery to Get Taller (Stature Lengthening)?
Since the surgery requires an extensive recovery period where the bone is healing over the span of months, it’s essential for patients to be in good health beforehand. Your doctor will ensure the following is true before you can get the surgery:
- No history of smoking
- No conditions that affect bone density
- No Vitamin D deficiency
- Full skeletal maturity (growth plates completely closed)
You may also be required to go through psychological evaluation or even therapy before the procedure, but most doctors forgo this. The point being, one shouldn’t consider this surgery as a cure-all for any body image issues.
Most surgeons assess patients on an individual basis, keeping their general health and mental stability in mind. Hence, there’s no height threshold that makes you “too tall” for this procedure – your reasons for the surgery and your health are what matter.
How Should I Prepare for Surgery?
Though your doctor may give you additional instructions, generally, you’ll be asked to:
- Stretch your calves, hamstrings and hips via yoga in the months leading up to the surgery
- Build endurance in your legs through running or swimming
- Not eat or drink anything for 12-24 hours before surgery
- Refrain from taking any medications or supplements as instructed by your doctor
- Pack clothes and other personal items such as your toothbrush a day before the surgery
- Ensure you a caretaker to help for a few weeks after the surgery
- Secure transportation from your hotel – to the doctors and physical therapy
- Make sure to clear your schedule completely for at least 3 months
Always double check with your doctor to see if there are any additional considerations you should account for pre and post surgery.
What Happens During Height Surgery?
You’ll be given a general anesthetic so you will be asleep for the duration of the surgery. Depending on the method used, the surgeon will make a cut in the bone to either split it in two, or at least until the bone marrow is revealed.
If you’ve gone for an external lengthening method, they will then embed wires and rods touching the bone as well as through the muscle on top of the bone. These wires will connect to the screws of the external apparatus which allow the bone to be stretched apart.
For the internal method, the surgeon will inlay an internal nail or intramedullary rod through the middle of your bone (medullary cavity), and then attach it at the top and bottom of the tibia or femur. Since there’s no bulky external apparatus, patients are able to move around easier, recover faster, and oftentimes bear their full weight on the nail if pain allows.
Limb Lengthening Risk and Complications
Though there is a risk of complications after limb lengthening surgery as with any other invasive procedure, you’re unlikely to have major complications. Most patients suffer from minor complications such as:
- Tight muscles
- Soft tissue tightness
- General pain
- Stiff joints
Out of these, only tight muscles and soft tissues would require surgery to loosen them if physical therapy doesn’t help.
However, though the risk of major complications is low, it’s certainly not zero. You might experience:
- Compressed or pinched nerves
- Deep vein thrombosis
- Fat embolisms
These complications may require major surgeries so it’s important to keep up with regular physical therapy and doctor appointments so they’re caught in time and don’t become life-threatening.
Moreover, you might have a leg length discrepancy during or after the distraction period. This might happen because of uneven splitting or early healing of bone and might require bone graft surgery. If your bone heals too early, the surgeon may have to operate again and drill another gap into the bone.
Additionally, some patients develop knock knees or bow legs after the procedure but this can be fixed relatively easily.
There’s also the risk that you might lose some athletic ability since your biomechanics change and your muscles are stretched tight. If you’re a runner, powerlifter, or gym enthusiast, you may see a difference in your form and performance.
What To Expect After Leg Lengthening Surgery?
You’ll likely be required to stay in the hospital for up to a week, or at least for 1 night. During this time, you’ll receive painkillers and blood thinners if you need them. You’ll also be trained in using either the external apparatus or the remote controller to adjust the bone. The lengthening process itself will usually start 5-7 days after the operation.
You’ll also begin regular physical therapy in the hospital so the muscles and tendons can be prepared for the lengthening or stretching to come. Without proper physical therapy, you will not recover fully or without complications.
After you’ve been released from the hospital, you’ll have to visit your doctor every 10-14 days for an evaluation. The doctor will take X-Rays and assess how well the bone is consolidating (another term for bone healing).
Depending on how well the bones are consolidating, the doctor may speed up or slow down the lengthening process to ensure you don’t wind up with a malunion (where the bone isn’t growing together or filling in the gaps).
How Long Does It Take to See Results?
Generally, the distraction (or lengthening) period lasts anywhere from many months to a year, since the bone needs to be split very gradually. If you get the STRYDE nail or method, you’ll be able to participate in weight-bearing activities after a couple of days, but you might be asked to use crutches for caution. Wheelchairs can also make it easier to traverse longer distances or if you go with an external, non weight bearing method.
After lengthening, a full recovery or consolidation can take up to a year in some cases. Making the total time required for lengthening up to 2 years. When it comes to regaining your normal strength and abilities, it’s always best to listen to your doctor and proceed with caution.
Height Surgery: Where to Get & Costs
There are doctors worldwide who can perform the surgery successfully, but most will suggest picking the best doctor you can afford due to the inherent risks that come with such a procedure.
You can always make more money, but your health and life are priceless.
The cost of leg surgery can range anywhere from $15,000 to $280,000 and, being an elective procedure, it’s usually not covered by medical insurance. This doesn’t include the cost of hotels in the city where you’ve scheduled the surgery as well as food, transport, and any subsequent surgeries in case complications arise.
Though limb lengthening surgery is a significant commitment of both your time and your money, it could be worthwhile if your self-esteem issues arise from the dissatisfaction of your height (height dysphoria or neurosis) and nothing else has worked.
Even though the success rate is almost 100%, height enhancing surgery isn’t for everyone. Current studies and online accounts conclude that most patients who have leg lengthening done for cosmetic purposes have a positive outcome, but it doesn’t always cure height dysphoria or neurosis (dissatisfaction with one’s height).
If you know this going into it, you can ultimately make a wiser decision when considering leg extension surgery.
 International Center for Limb Lengthening. (2019, July 25). Short Stature: Want to Be Taller? (Cosmetic Height Surgery). International Center for Limb Lengthening. https://www.limblength.org/conditions/short-stature/
 Healthline. (2021, May 18). Can Surgery Help You Get Taller? Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/bone-health/surgery-to-get-taller
 Mount Sinai. (n.d.). Leg Lengthening and Shortening. Mount Sinai. https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/surgery/leg-lengthening-and-shortening
 Paley Institute Stature Lengthening Center. (2015, September 25). Costs & Financial Considerations. Paley Orthopedic and Spine Institute. https://paleyinstitute.org/centers-of-excellence/stature-lengthening/costs-financial-considerations/
 Rozbruch, S. R. (2020, April 28). Limb Lengthening – An Overview. HSS. https://www.hss.edu/conditions_limb-lengthening-overview.asp