Would You Break Your Bones and Pay $75,000 to Be Taller?

File this one in the “you learn something new every day” category.

A procedure known as limb-lengthening surgery can actually add inches to a person’s height. Pioneered during WWII, the surgery was initially used to help soldiers returning from war with injuries. The technique has improved since, though nowadays the orthopedic surgery is most often used to help people with dwarfism or those with severely imbalanced leg lengths due to congenital disabilities or injuries.

Now, more and more people elect to have this surgery purely for cosmetic reasons. They want to be taller.

Some people who have had the cosmetic surgery cite mental health and discrimination challenges that come with being short as some of their reasons for choosing it. And to be certain, the procedure is no easy undertaking.

How does limb-lengthening work? A hole is drilled into the leg bones, usually the femur, which are then broken in two. Metal rods and screws are fitted in between the broken ends of the bones, with what is essentially a knob on the outside of the leg. The surgery takes a few hours to complete. The rod is then slowly lengthened each day, pulling the bones farther apart and encouraging more bone to grow in between the gaps along with more blood vessels, nerves, muscle, and skin. This process can take 2-3 months.

After the desired height is reached, usually adding around 3 inches for most people, patients typically need months of daily rehabilitation to learn to walk again. The entire process is long, painful, and expensive. The surgery is available in dozens of countries, and while costs vary, it is not covered by insurance and can run anywhere between $75,000 and $280,000.

A 2020 study found that almost all people who have the surgery will have some kind of complication. The risks range from blood clots to nerve damage to the bones, possibly not fusing back together. Some doctors are concerned that people with psychological issues like body dysmorphia may also seek the surgery.

And while the surgery may be life-changing for people who medically need it, or even those who choose to have it for cosmetic reasons, the question always becomes, is it truly worth it?

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