A recent profile by Buzzfeed of a man who underwent a procedure has alerted people to the fact that over the last 15 years, people have been electing to have cosmetic surgery on their height.
The man, named "Scott" in the Buzzfeed piece to disguise his identity, chose to get surgery to take him from 1.7 meters (5 foot 7 inches) to 1.77 meters (5'10") after colleagues made constant remarks about his height, and he grew tired of demeaning comments about short people online. It's a problem cited by others who have also chosen to extend their length.
"When I went to college, I noticed that I was shorter than a lot of the guys and even the girls," Sam Becker, who also chose to have the procedure, told BBC News. "It does affect your life. Honestly, women generally don't date guys that are shorter than them. The hardest thing was sometimes feeling like I won't be able to find a wife."
The procedure itself is no picnic either, involving breaking your leg bones and then stretching you out over 2-3 months.
“Through small little incisions, I cut the bone surgically,” Dr Shahab Mahboubian, an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in height lengthening, told Buzzfeed. “Then I insert a rod — we call it a nail or a rod — that goes inside the bone. The rod is magnetic and it has gears. Then there’s an external device that communicates with the nail. And over time, little by little, it lengthens out the nail.”
The leg bones gradually stretch, about a millimeter a day. During this phase patients have to use walkers to get around, and will experience a "stretching" type of pain which Mahboubian describes as "tolerable" because the stretching is done over a long period of time.
The surgery has complications, including the possibility of infection and blood clots (though patients are put on antibiotics and blood thinners to mitigate this) as well as the risk of your bones or the rod breaking under your weight.
“As some patients lengthen, they could make too much bone," Mahboubian added to Buzzfeed. "Others may not make enough bone.”
He points out that the vast majority of his patients do not have complications, though Dr David Goodier, a consultant orthopedic surgeon in the UK, told BBC News in 2020 that complications from the procedure in general are high, given the complex nature of growing bone, nerves, blood vessels, and skin.
The maximum height that patients can grow using the procedure is 8 centimeters (3 inches), Mahboubian said. Beyond that limit, people will be more likely to experience complications. One person, named Barny by the BBC, went through an unsuccessful operation and described the stretching procedure as "excruciating".
"If I was 16 years old, perhaps it wouldn't have been a problem. But when I had the operation I was 46," he told the BBC. "My legs were being pulled apart, but my bones never caught up. I had a three-inch gap…just two sticks of bone and a metal bar in between."
For five years before the rods were removed, he was left walking around with a large gap between his bones, supported only by a metal rod.
Surgically lengthening legs is not new. In fact, it has been around for almost a century, used to correct people who have one leg longer than the other or those wounded in military service or accidents. However, undertaking it for cosmetic reasons is just over a decade old and on the rise.