The height of a person is primarily determined by genetics. If your parents are tall, you are likely to grow tall when you attain adulthood.

However, your parents’ height is not the only factor that could lead to a shorter or taller stature. Hormonal disturbances and genetic defects may also cause you to be much taller or shorter than the average height.

If you are unhappy with your height, you can choose to undergo surgery to increase or decrease it.

Let us have a look at the different types of surgeries aimed at changing the height of a person. We will also learn the facts about these procedures including how they are performed, the indications for these surgeries, and the risks involved.

Types of height surgeries

The height surgeries are basically aimed at either increasing or decreasing the lengths of the bones.

Most height surgeries involve increasing the bone length to increase the total height of a person.

It is extremely rare for any person to want to have shorter than his or her actual height. It is common for people to be unhappy with their shorter height than their taller height.

The reasons are obvious.

Being taller makes a person feel more confident as it improves their personality. Unfortunately, the opposite is true for shorter people.

People who are shorter than the average height are more likely to be dissatisfied with their stature as it makes them feel inferior and affects their self-esteem and self-confidence.

However, having said that, it doesn’t mean height surgeries are not performed on taller people. Under some circumstances, patients with taller height might need to undergo surgery for the correction in the heights or lengths of the bones. We will discuss the same later. 

Let us first have a look at the surgeries aimed at increasing the height.

What are the indications for the height increasing surgeries?

The most common indication for the height increasing surgery is dwarfism.

Dwarfism refers to a condition caused due to skeletal dysplasia or bone dysplasia resulting in the irregular growth of bones. A dwarf is an adult having a height less than 4 feet 10 inches or 147 cm.

The lower height is the result of disorders that affect the development of growth plates in the bones resulting in short stature or disproportionate limb size that we commonly refer to as dwarfism. [1]

There are more than 200 conditions known to cause dwarfism with achondroplasia being one of the most common.

However, even though achondroplasia is comparatively more common than other conditions responsible for dwarfism, it is still a rare condition, affecting only 1 out of 50,000 children.

It is common for females with achondroplasia to grow naturally up to a height of 4 feet 2 inches or 128 cm and males to grow to a height of about 4 feet 4 inches or 134 cm. The arms and legs of an achondroplastic dwarf are usually shorter compared to the trunk or head of the body. The shortness is predominant in the thighs and upper arms. [2] [3]

Many patients with dwarfism may also have deformities in the lower extremity such as bowlegs or knee and ankle problems that make it painful and difficult for them to walk and perform routine activities.

Height increasing surgeries offer a good option for patients with dwarfisms as it enables them to overcome the challenges posed due to this condition.

However, dwarfism is not the only indication for height increasing surgeries.

Any person who is unhappy with his or her height may consider this procedure if an increase in height is expected to help him overcome the challenges posed by a shorter height.

What are the goals of height increasing surgery?

Not everyone with a shorter height or dwarfism has to undergo surgery to increase height.

It is often a personal decision that should be made only after weighing the benefits against risks. It should be noted that being shorter is not a major health risk. Hence, medically speaking, it is not considered an essential procedure that must be performed in order to prevent any complications or save the patient’s life.

This is why; it is considered a cosmetic surgery primarily aimed at improving the person’s appearance. 

Hence, it is important to determine your specific goals and needs before you plan to undergo a height increasing surgery.

The common goals of this treatment include:

  • Achieve a functional height usually between 4 feet and 10 inches or 147 cm for women and 5 feet and 2 inches or 157 cm for men
  • Correct deformities such as bowlegs in order to improve walking and the ability to perform routine activities
  • Lengthen the arms to achieve a functional length for driving and self-care
  • Gain psychological benefits from attaining a positive body image and functioning

It is important to assess your expectations before you decide to undergo height increasing surgery. You should also discuss the results you expect against the possible outcomes based on your present height.

This will give you a clear idea of whether it would be feasible for you to undergo this surgery.

The detailed procedure of height increasing surgery

Limb lengthening surgery is a common procedure performed to increase the height of a person. [4]

Limb lengthening can be performed with or without deformity correction. However, limb deformity correction can be performed at any age while limb lengthening needs to be performed only at a certain age that we will discuss later. [6]

Limb lengthening typically involves 4 stages. Let us have a look at the different stages of limb lengthening and what you can expect during each.

First Stage of limb lengthening

The ideal age for the first stage of limb lengthening is 8 to 10 years. The procedure is performed under anesthesia.

It involves the release of the tight bands around your knees followed by osteotomy (removal of a part of the bone). The bone tissues are then excised, and an external fixator or internal rod is applied to the thigh bone called the femur to ultimately achieve a growth of 2.5 inches or 6 cm in height. 

Fixing an external lengthening device to the shin bones called the tibia may help you achieve an additional growth of 1.5 inches or 4 cm. So, the total increase in the height you can expect at the first stage would be around 4 inches or 10 cm.

Usually, this surgery is performed at the same time on both legs. In some cases, the surgery on each leg might be staged about a week apart if that is expected to benefit the patient.

Factors such as monitoring of the spinal cord functions and blood loss are critical for ensuring successful outcomes at this stage. 

After surgery, you may have to stay in the hospital for 3 to 4 days. Adequate rest for about 5 to 7 days after discharge is essential to support recovery and healing.

The lengthening phase usually begins after this period.

The next 10 to 12 weeks involve the distraction phase lengthening during which you will notice an increase in your height by about one centimeter every two weeks. Your doctor may recommend you to undergo physical therapy 3 to 5 days a week for 1 or 2 hours a day for better results.

This phase is followed by a period of 2 to 4 months, during which the bones are allowed to consolidate and heal.

Once the bones have consolidated and become solid, you can consider undergoing the next stage of the limb lengthening procedure.

Second stage of limb lengthening surgery

The second stage of limb lengthening surgery is ideally performed at the age of 13 to 14 years for girls and 15 to 16 for boys.

The surgery involves the insertion of internal rods to lengthen the femur bone by about 3 inches or 8 cm and the tibia by 2.8 inches or 7 cm. This is expected to help you achieve a total increase in your leg length by 5 to 6 inches or 12.7 to 15 cm.

This surgery is usually performed in 2 stages: first on the tibia and then, on the femur. A gap of about 2 to 4 weeks is maintained between these 2 stages.

The post-operative phase of stage 2 would be similar to that of stage one.

If a nail was inserted during this procedure to stabilize the bones and support limb lengthening, nearly 50 to 75% of weight-bearing would be tolerated shortly after the procedure. After 2 to 4 weeks, most patients are able to achieve 100% weight-bearing using a crutch. Full weight-bearing without crutches is usually achieved after 4 to 6 weeks. [5]

Third stage of limb lengthening

The third stage of limb lengthening involves an increase in the length of the arms. Most patients do not consider this as an essential step as they would have already achieved the desired height after the first 2 stages. [7]

However, arm lengthening is a critical step of this surgery as it ensures a proportionate increase in the length of your arms based on the increase in the length of your legs or total height.

Skipping this step might make your body look disproportionate with the size of your arms appearing too short for your height.

The third stage of limb lengthening is usually performed at the age of 16 to 18 years.

During this procedure, external fixators are applied to the bone in the arms called the humerus to lengthen the arms by 4 inches or 10 cm. This is followed by radial nerve decompression to ensure there is no compression or excessive stretching of the radial nerve passing through the hands following the increase in their lengths.

This procedure usually takes about 3 to 4 hours.

The primary goal of arm lengthening is to improve your functional length. After the procedure, you may have to stay in the hospital for 1 or 2 days. The lengthening begins on the 7th or 8th day after the procedure. It may take about 20 weeks to lengthen the arm by 10 cm. The lengthening phase might last for about 4 to 5 months.

During the active phase of lengthening, your doctor might ask you to undergo physical therapy 2 to 3 days a week to maintain the functions and the range of movements of the shoulder, hands, and elbow.

However, strenuous activities involving hand movement must be avoided until the bones have healed completely. You must avoid lifting weights heavier than 3 pounds or 1.4 kg. Also, lifting anything or performing any activity that needs you to extend your arms fully must be avoided.

The lengthening phase is followed by a healing phase that may take 3 to 5 months during which the bones consolidate.

Once the lengthening segment has consolidated and healed completely as confirmed by X-rays, the external fixators can be removed.

In some cases, rods need to be inserted into the bones at the time of the removal of external fixators to stabilize bone growth. The decision to insert rods is made during surgery if the lengthening segment has become “narrow” or when one to the sides of the bone is not fully healed.

Fourth stage of limb lengthening

The 4th stage of limb lengthening is usually recommended for patients who have met the goals of the first two limb lengthening stages successfully.

Now that we have learned what you can expect during a height increasing surgery, let us check the answers to common concerns patients have about this procedure.

Who is the ideal candidate for height increasing surgery?

Height increasing surgery is suitable for patients who are healthy and have reached complete skeletal maturity.

Though there is no specific initial height requirement for this procedure, your doctor would assess whether you are a good candidate for height increasing surgery based on your health concerns and expectations.

The candidate should be psychologically stable with good support from the family. This is an important yet commonly ignored criteria for the eligibility for height increasing surgery. Being emotionally stable is critical to be able to face the mixed emotions most patients experience during and after these procedures.

What to expect during the initial consultation?

During your first visit, the doctor would examine you and have a detailed discussion about how the height lengthening procedure is performed.

You can also discuss the challenges you are experiencing and your expectations.

He might also recommend some X-rays to be taken based on which a long-term comprehensive plan would be formed for this procedure.

Which bones can be lengthened to increase height?

Usually, the height increasing procedures are aimed at increasing the length of the thigh bone called the humerus and the shin bone called the tibia.

What more can you expect from height increasing surgery?

After undergoing 5 phases of limb lengthening, most patients are able to achieve an increase in the height by a few inches. 

However, the goal of the surgery is not just to increase the height or arm length but also to correct deformities in the bones and joints, especially the ankle, spine, knee, elbow, and hips.

For example, some patients with dwarfism have an abnormal curvature of the lower part of the spine resulting in a “sway” back. This condition is called hyperlordosis. The abnormally increased curvature of the spine may cause the spaces through which the nerves and spinal cord pass to become narrow resulting in spinal stenosis.

Spinal stenosis is known to cause pain and lack of sensations in the legs. If you suffer from these abnormalities, you can inform the doctor the same so that the deformity can be corrected during the height increasing procedure.

Your doctor would consider decreasing the curvature of the lower part of the spine by correcting the deformities to help you avoid hyperlordosis and spinal stenosis.

What is the right age for limb lengthening surgery?

Limb lengthening is not recommended for young kids below 4 or 5 years of age, because a certain level of maturity is necessary for the child to have successful outcomes with the treatment.

Also, the procedure may interfere with the natural growth and development of bones. Hence, it is advisable to wait until the child has attained sufficient growth in the bones as well as emotional maturity before he or she is considered for a limb lengthening procedure.

However, that doesn’t mean you can wait any longer to undergo this procedure. In fact, it is advisable to start limb lengthening during your teen years.

In most cases, the decision to undergo this surgery is made by patients themselves when they grow into adults. So, most patients choose to start the limb lengthening procedure in their late teens or early 20s. At this age, it could be much harder to achieve the expected height.

The ideal age for limb lengthening is 8 to 10 years. Patients are advised to have their 1st limb lengthening surgery (with or without deformity correction) between 8 to 10 years of age.

Usually, they need to undergo 4 stages of the procedure that span across their childhood and adolescence.

The optimum increase in height can be achieved when limb lengthening is performed at this age. Starting too early or waiting until after the 20s is not advisable as it may not lead to the desired outcomes.

What are the potential risks involved in height increasing surgeries?

  • Non-union of the bones
  • Nerve stretch injury
  • Leg length discrepancy
  • Muscle or tendon contracture causing stiffness in the joints or arthritis
  • Failure of the bones to heal completely necessitating bone graft surgery
  • Excessive stretching or compression of the nerves
  • Tightening of the muscles and tendons
  • Medical complications such as fat embolism and deep vein thrombosis

The risk of these adverse effects is rare. Also, complications like the compression of the nerves or the tightening of the muscles and tendons can be corrected by the decompression of the nerve or a tendon-lengthening surgery, respectively.

Now that we have learned about the procedure to increase the height of a person, let us check whether it is possible to reduce the height through surgical means.

Is it possible to reduce your height?

There is no such procedure specifically aimed at reducing the height. In rare cases, the bone-shortening surgery may be performed for other purposes, though it may eventually lead to a decrease in height.

These surgeries are usually performed to eliminate the difference in the lengths of both legs.

So, the limb length discrepancy may be considered an indication for bone-shortening surgeries. It is performed when there is a noticeable difference of several centimeters or inches in both legs.

Though patients with limb length discrepancy are usually able to compensate for the difference in their limbs, over time, it may lead to complications such as pain and difficulty in walking and running.

Hence, bone-shortening surgeries are recommended to restore the same length in both legs. This procedure eventually leads to a reduction in height as a part of the bone of the leg having a higher length is removed during the procedure.

During this surgery, a surgeon would remove a portion of the thigh bone or shin bone followed by the insertion of metal plates, rods, or screws to hold together the remaining parts until they heal.

So, the surgery might reduce the person’s total height by a few centimeters.

Conclusion

It is possible to increase your height by undergoing a limb lengthening procedure. It could provide you a chance to overcome the challenges posed due to having a shorter height and help you feel more confident about your appearance.

Additionally, this procedure would also improve your overall functionality and enhance the quality of your life.

References:

  1. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dwarfism/symptoms-causes/syc-20371969
  2. https://www.webmd.com/children/dwarfism-causes-treatments
  3. https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/8173/achondroplasia
  4. https://www.hss.edu/conditions_limb-lengthening-overview.asp
  5. https://www.limblength.org/treatments/limb-lengthening-the-process/
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23730339/
  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11117057/

Author

I am a doctor and working as a research based Medical Writer and Editor for more than 8 years. Passion for writing and an excellent medical background are my strong points. I love to combine my two passions into a profession wherein I can write professional articles in the field of medicine, health, and nutrition.​