FAQ – Leg lengthening & shortening

Home FAQ – Leg lengthening & shortening

FAQ – Leg lengthening & shortening

1. Why is this surgery performed?
The leg lengthening or shortening surgery can be recommended by your doctor for any of the following conditions:
• For treating legs of unequal length in children or adults
• For deformity correction in legs due to birth defects, disease or injury
• For cosmetic height increase

2. What are the factors affecting height of a person?
Nutrition, genetic inheritance, illness and the lifestyle one follows are some of the main factors that can affect a person’s height. Young people who regularly engage in physical activities such as sports and have a balanced healthy diet are more likely to attain their maximum possible height than those who do not follow these routines. In addition there are a number of childhood illnesses that can stunt their growth.

3. Is it possible to become taller using medicines or other chemicals?
Leg bones are the major contributing factor to a person’s height. It has not been proven that such substances can help one become taller. This is because once you have stopped growing, the growth plates in the bones fuse together and this prevents any further growth.

4. How does the leg lengthening surgery work?
This surgery is based on the principle of distraction osteogenesis. The first step of the surgery involves a procedure known as osteotomy, performed by an orthopaedic surgeon, where the bone to be lengthened is cracked. Next, the two separate parts of that bone are slowly distracted (pulled apart). The limb is then stabilized using one of the several internal or external fixation devices or frames. The body on its own regenerates bone cells and soft tissues to fill the space in the broken part. The new bone will normally be hardened in about a year, though it should be able to support walking within a few months of surgery.

5. What type of fixation devices are used?
They can be internal, external or a mixture of both.

6. What is Ilizarov technique?
This is a highly successful orthopaedic surgical technique designed to lengthen or straighten bones and soft tissues, named after the Russian born doctor Gavril Ilizarov, widely recognized as the inventor of the circular external fixators used in such surgeries. Introduced in the year 1950, this technique is still the underlying principle used in most of the limb lengthening surgeries practiced today. Click here to read more about the Ilizarov method of limb lengthening.

7. Is this a major surgery and how long does it take?
Yes, this is a major orthopaedic procedure that may take two to three hours for completing the surgical part on a leg.

8. Is the surgery painful?
In general, the patients may feel a variety of pain types and the management of the same will be based on individual patient history and requirement.

9. What happens after the surgery?
Most patients may have to spend a couple of days in the hospital, based on their post-operative recovery. Physical therapy will begin on the day after surgery. Distraction and lengthening of the bone usually starts in a week or two after the surgery. It is important that joint mobility is maintained during this period. The cut in the bone is slowly pulled apart by making daily adjustments on the fixator. It is during this period that the body starts the bone regeneration process. The growth rate of the bone is evaluated through X-ray investigation. Routine checks for any infection are also carried out.

10. When is the fixator removed?
Periodic adjustments on the fixator settings will be carried out till the growth of the bone reaches the desired length and the limb becomes straightened. However, the fixator will be permanently removed only after the new bone is hardened and the tissues well formed. The removal of the fixator will be a surgical procedure under general anaesthesia. A cast or a brace will have to be worn for a few weeks after the fixator removal, for protecting the bone.

11. How much height will be gained after the surgery?
This depends on the results of the pre-surgical examinations conducted by your doctor on your body anatomy and the outcome of the surgery. However the normal increase will be in the range of 2-3 inches.

12. What are the complications in the surgery?
Pin tract infection and joint stiffness are some of the common complaints that can occur. These however can be controlled by the use of antibiotics and physiotherapy respectively. Other complications such as severe infections, nerve injury, blood clot, blood vessel injury, non-unions can also occur, though in rare cases. These will have to be treated through medication or additional surgical procedures.

13. Can any one have this surgery?
Though the surgery can generally be performed on children and adults based on doctor’s recommendation, the person should be free from any bone disease or bone infection. Also several other factors including psychological evaluation of the patient need to be done as part of the preparation. However, the treatment time for adults will normally be double the time taken for children.

Note: The information provided above is addressed to the non-medical community as an educational reference and to answer some of the frequently asked questions (FAQ) on the subject.

Please do not take this as a substitute for professional medical advice. Kindly contact our consultant team for an accurate diagnosis of your ailment.