Increasingly, patients are seeking leg lengthening surgery from surgeons for non-medical reasons.
The surgeons said the surgery is now safer, but still carries risks and should be avoided if possible.
People who have this surgery often cite height stamping as a motivation.
Surgeons are increasingly receiving demand for cosmetic leg lengthening surgery to achieve a socially acceptable height, experts said. But they warned that the surgery still carries risks.
The two surgeons told Insider that the procedure should be avoided if possible. Although it is much safer than before, it is an invasive operation with a long recovery period.
They said complications, although rare, can be risky if not managed by an experienced team.
But one surgeon, who refused to perform the surgery for cosmetic reasons, said he had recently changed his mind.
Matija Krkovic, a consultant limb reconstruction surgeon at Cambridge University Hospitals in the United Kingdom, said that for some shorter people who feel overwhelmed by the stigma, surgery can feel like a blessing.
The second surgeon also pointed to social pressures.
“What’s a little sad is that it’s like they’re having surgery because of the rest of society,” said Hamish Simpson, a surgeon and professor of orthopedics and trauma at the University of Edinburgh.
Leg extension is invasive
“These procedures are relatively simple as long as you follow the basics,” Krkovic told Insider. “But there will be occasional problems.”
Simpson said that recent developments have made leg extension safer than before.
More surgeons recommend the procedure, so they have more experience in dealing with complications. The new bone-stretching devices that are placed inside the leg rather than on the outside also seem much safer, according to Simpson.
Still, it remains an invasive surgery.
How does leg extension work?
During the leg extension procedure, the bone is deliberately broken. Surgeons place a support device on the outside of the leg or inside the bone. This can be stretched one millimeter (0.03 inch) each day.
The process triggers the body to think that the person has grown again. It begins to fill the gaps with new bone, new tendon and nerve tissue, and everything else a leg needs to function.
The procedure is often used when doctors deem it medically necessary, for example when one limb is much shorter than the other, or to correct problems after an injury.
Complications are rare but can be significant. These usually happen during the recovery period, so it is important that the patient is followed up by an experienced team.
Krkovic said the support device could break or malfunction and the height gain could be lost. Some people may find that the new bone is not growing and they are left with a broken leg. The infection can settle in the bone.
Another problem, Krkovic said, is that overextension of the leg can seriously affect the patient’s ability to walk.
“Actually, people may have trouble walking. They certainly can’t run,” he said of these cases.
Healing can be painful, especially with external fixators, as the wires can begin to tear the skin if the leg is extended more than 2 centimeters (0.8 inches), Krkovic said.
The pain from internal fixators is “more manageable,” he said.
The procedure remains costly and not accessible to everyone. Krkovic offers £25,000 (about $30,000) per leg.
Surgery packages are offered at discounted prices abroad. Simpson and Krkovic said surgeons can be quite competent, but there can be problems with follow-up care, insurance in case of complications, and lack of oversight.
Cosmetic leg extensions become more common as the stature stigma continues
Krkovic says she doesn’t advertise cosmetic leg extensions and didn’t consider doing so until recently. It was the large number of requests that caused him to change his mind.
“I think if we ban it, we’ll probably open the doors to unregulated practice. Then there will be fewer people who want it, but probably those people will be hurt more.”
Simpson said “there is no doubt” that some short people suffer serious psychological harm.
“I think these people could benefit from having an extension procedure.”
Simpson told the story of a person who felt that people were looking at him every time he left the house.
As a result, he said, “They didn’t leave their flats. So they were more or less imprisoned in their own homes.”
Men who’ve seen Simpson say it’s hard to find a mate. There are also practical considerations, such as not being able to reach the top shelf in a store or the top button in an elevator.
It can also affect their professional life. Insider previously reported that tech workers borrowed up to $75.00 to be taller and better align with companies like Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Meta.
Not everyone agrees that surgery is the solution.
Advocacy groups argue that height discrimination or height discrimination should be tackled rather than trying to change people’s bodies.
“Instead of looking for a surgical solution, people say, ‘I’m actually happy with my height, I’m pretty happy to marry someone of similar height.’ They look at it from that angle instead of looking for a surgical solution,” Simpson said.
“It would be better if society didn’t create the feeling that someone actually had a problem with height where their skeleton was perfectly healthy,” Simpson said.
But Krkovic says his patients are not willing to lose hope that society will change.
“Combating stigma in the modern world is very difficult, if not impossible. It seems that patients or short people who feel this is a problem are most likely not happy to wait that long,” he said.
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