Limb-lengthening is serious surgery that carries significant risks and intense post-operation issues. The procedure can be done on one leg in order to even out uneven limbs or on both legs to increase stature. It is frequently performed on children whose bones are still in the growing process and require the procedure. Limb-lengthening is not cosmetic surgery for those able to correct height issues through the use of higher shoes or lifts.
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Dwarfism is one of the major reasons people may elect to undergo limb-lengthening. Other causes are developmental deformities or limbs that have been damaged in an accident. Limb-lengthening also is done on individuals suffering from discrepancy in limb length. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, limb length discrepancy can be caused by childhood bone infections and various bone diseases.
The method used in limb-lengthening surgeries is not for the timid or those casually interested in gaining inches on their height. Surgery involves breaking the patient's leg in two or more places and inserting metal pins into the bones. These pins are held in place by a scaffolding frame on the outside of the leg. The pins must be rotated every day to help the bone gradually grow together and create a newly elongated and complete bone.
During surgery it is possible for patients to contract a condition called osteomyelitis, which is a bone infection. Other possible side-effects include blood vessel injury, improper bone healing and nerve damage. After limb-lengthening surgery is performed, there is a risk of infection forming at the insertion point of the wires and pins. It also is possible the actual results achieved by the procedure may be less or more than the projected lengthening effects of the surgery. Patients also may experience stiffness in adjacent joints.
After the limb-lengthening surgery is complete, patients must keep all scheduled doctor's appointments to allow for monitored progress. Lengthening causes muscles, blood vessels and skin to be stretched as well as bones, so surgeons need to check the patient's legs carefully and often. Among the symptoms to verify is the sensation level of toes and feet to ensure there are no circulatory complications. Muscle and nerve damage also are possibilities that must be monitored. Patients must follow all advice regarding cleaning the skin around the bone pins and adjusting the scaffolding frame several times each day to avoid infection. The limb-lengthening process usually requires several months to achieve the desired result agreed upon by the patient and surgeon. When this length is achieved, another surgery is needed to remove the pins.
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- ABC News: Controversial and Grueling Procedure Lengthens Limbs, Risks Lives; Anne Marie Dorning; 2007
- American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons: Limb Length Discrepancy; 2007
- Mayo Clinic: Dwarfism
- Limb Lengthening: About Limb Lengthening; S. Robert Rozbruch, M.D.
- The New York Times: Leg Lengthening/Shortening;