Elective surgery to increase height

Limb lengthening is a surgical technique that can be done to treat medical conditions or make someone taller for cosmetic reasons. The thighbones (not seen here) are sawed apart and an implant is attached in the break to add length to the bone. According to a Details magazine article, around 4,000 people around the world have had cosmetic limb lengthening (CLL) surgery. Apparently, it's an increasingly popular procedure for medical tourists who go to places like Brazil, China, and Egypt where the surgery is cheaper. From Details:
 Images Details Features 0608 Detailsfeatures7V A person could argue that to pay upwards of $100,000 for a risky, excruciating surgery that adds just a few inches to your frame is insane. CLL is by far the most extreme (and expensive) procedure that a human being can submit to in the name of vanity. Most lipo and facial-surgery patients can go home within an hour. Recovery time for calf and pec implants is a couple of weeks. And at $8,000, penile implants seem like a bargain by comparison–plus, in terms of pure physical pain, there is no contest. Beyond the agony of having your bones cut in two and stretched, CLL carries risks like pinhole infections, nerve damage, and severe deformity.

On a website called Make Me Taller, which launched two years ago, you can wade through message boards filled with self-loathing, hope, and hubris. “I would like to do 6 [centimeters] and go home sooner,” writes “12,” a patient about to undergo CLL in China. “I’ll have less possible complications and a shorter recovery time. The only thing that stops me from making that goal solid is the idea that I’ll be leaving almost an inch on the table. And yes, 2 inches is substantial, but isn’t 3 inches, like, mind-blowing?”


  1. Saw a segment on this during Hot Docs in Toronto; it was part of “S&M: Short and Male,” a doc on social bias against short stature, especially in men. Some of the film was fluff, but this portion was particularly affecting, which showed a teenage boy undergoing the painful procedure. People were gasping in horror.

    It’s interesting that selection quotes a Chinese patient … apparently only recently have height prejudices been banned in employment ads. Many used to ask for a minimum height, in order to reduce the number of applicants.

  2. This may make you taller, but unless you get the rest of your body similarly enlarged you will not look right, proportionally. And I’m not sure you can get skull enlargement surgery just yet.

  3. Aaaghhh! That makes me cringe. I’m 5’0, no taller, and probably won’t be any taller, but sawing my bones in half? No thanks. I used to joke about needing a medieval rack to get a couple inches- but even with 3 inches from such a procedure, I’d still be miniature!

    Yow. Have fun with that, folks. I’ll stick to my yoga so I don’t get -shorter-.

  4. I’ve had my femur surgically broken, not to lengthen it but to straighten it after it didn’t heal properly from a fracture. This lengthening procedure would involve an intense amount of pain. I can’t imagine going through that voluntarily for purely cosmetic reasons. By the way, the picture shows the tibia and fibula, not the femur.

  5. This may make you taller, but unless you get the rest of your body similarly enlarged you will not look right, proportionally.

    That depends on how you start out. I’m 6’2″. But really, I’m 5’8″ from the waist up and 6’8″ from the waist down (40″ inseam). If I had really short legs, stretching them would make me look more in proportion.

  6. I’m 6’2″.

    I hope you’re not partial to… say… three inches worth of your shins. If you are, my condolences. I’ll be sure to leave a nice glass of Chianti to console you when you wake up tomorrow, a proud 5’11”.

  7. I just can’t see the return for pain-investment here. Now if they were implanting foot long blades that snapped out when you kicked….

  8. Honestly? If it weren’t for the excruciating pain & the cost, I’d consider it. (probably still wouldn’t *do* it) – At 4’10”, being looked over, treated like a kid, getting hit in the face with other peoples’ things, etc, can get old.

  9. Doctors thought about doing a similar surgery on me, not for cosmetic reasons, but because one of my legs is shorter than the other. I’m surprised at the price, because the Shriners hospitals do the surgery on a regular basis–and the hospital foots the bill, not the patient.

    Alas, in my case they decided to stop the growth in one leg (by shaving down the growth plates–also extremely painful) in order for the other leg to catch up. So really, the cosmetic surgery would be nice now so that my legs could be normal length again. Oh well, the only time it bothers me is when I have to buy slacks . . . that’s when being short kinda sucks.

  10. Regarding the proportions issue, I know (heck am related to) people who were shorter than average entirely in the leg department.

    I could sit next to one of my male relatives, and he’d be an inch and a half taller than me, but when standing, the height difference would be reversed. That’s probably three inches of leg length right there that he’d look perfectly normal with.

    That said, I don’t think three inches is worth having someone break your legs and mangle the broken ends to gain. The text refers to thigh bones, which frankly TERRIFY me with the thought of having broken, but even if it’s the lower leg, as in the x-ray, that’s a huge bit of trouble.

    Mind you, I think the whole idea of cosmetic surgery is a little ridiculous. I can understand it to correct something that’s causing actual trouble – if having uneven leg length is distorting your gait and straining your back or knees or something, then go for it, lengthen the short one or extend the long one.

    If your legs are more than just “short” and into the realm of “not working properly as legs” then fine – but I suspect most cases that severe aren’t going to be corrected by just three inches extra length, and probably the damage is going to critically weaken them anyways.

  11. this procedure is illegal in the US for anything other than preventive medicine, and usually the subject is given a prescription shoe (yes) with soles thicker on one shoe than another.

    The reason these people go to other countries to have the surgery is because doctors in the US won’t do it. People wind up crippled from this procedure.

    Besides, if you’re in the US, and you’re that concerned about your height, your problem isn’t physical, it’s mental. Seek counseling and find out what happened to you to make you hate yourself so much, and get that treated. If you don’t find out why you hate yourself before the surgery, you’ll find something else to hate, and you won’t feel any better about yourself because you’re taller.

  12. You know, as a short person I got excited about the title. But…now I want to cringe and cry in a corner. A small corner.

    Sounds horrible.

  13. I did this surgery, and the reason was that my right leg used to be 3cm shorter than the left.

    It was really painful, I cried a lot during the day after. And a week afetr I started spinning the fuse which stretched my leg a milimeter per day. One turn, 1mm. Every 6 hours I did a quarter of a turn, to make it easer on my body and to guarantee a better healing.

    After a month spinning (to achieve 3cm, 30 days) tehy removed the external structure and blocked the edges. And I still had to use clutches for about 4 months. It all happened in the beginning of 2007, and next year I’ll remove the iron bar which was left inside the bone.

    It was really worthy for me, now my legs are uneven just a milimiter or two, like most people, compared to the 3cm it was before. If I had not done this, I would suffer from many problems in my column and knees in the future.

    Oh, I had to do several months of physical therapy too. I’m from Natal, Brazil.

  14. I broke my arm a bit over a month ago and had to have similar surgery on my radius due to the fragmentation at the ends of the break. There is about a 1/2″ gap between the ends of the bone now that I received a surgical plate to hold everything together.

    The amount of pain and suffering involved in the surgery alone is pretty severe. Muscles, nerves, tendons, etc. all have to be forcibly moved in order to screw in the plate this type of surgery requires. Not to mention a 4+ inch incision and severe range of motion problems.

    I wonder how much of this sort of information is given to potential patients? Or is it simply glossed over in the “Come to China and be 3″ taller” sales blurb?

  15. Saw this on Discovery or NG, in China height is an absolute requisite, pain not a deterrent.

  16. I have several friends with various types of dwarfism who have considered this (for a few minutes) for their children. The idea disgusts me but who am I to judge? They think it might save their kids an enormous amt of emotional pain. Maybe it will, but I doubt it.

  17. I’d heard of this before, although I was under the impression China was trying to discourage it at the time.

    As a guy who stands somewhere between 4’10” and 5′, I can see why someone would find even a small increase in height very important, and I can also see why being very short could impair your social life or your self-worth. I’m not the kind to modify my body in that way (and I’m actually quite content to be small), but if you want it badly enough to take that risk, then that’s probably reason enough.

    And actually… the problems that one man described don’t seem that different from the sort of psychological situation that results in most transgender people seeking hormone treatment and/or surgery. It’s a big thing to them. Interesting to see this happen, though.

  18. The first time I heard about this was in the documentary The Science of Dwarfism, which airs periodically on the National Geographic Channel. It provides an overview of different types of dwarfism, but it also underscores the ways people cope day-to-day with their conditions. As I understood the documentary, the very, very painful CLL surgery is more often considered by dwarfs who might be well served with precious few inches added to their height. And while I agree that the Details article is horrifying, it seems irresponsible and a little disingenuous to neglect to mention the applications of CLL beyond the cosmetic.

    For instance, Christy Ruhe’s limb lengthening surgery brought her height from 4’3″ to 4’10”. Now she is able to drive a car without using leg extensions.

  19. Interestingly, for successful (and in-demand) runway models, the ‘ideal’ proportions would encourage this surgery. Most desired are excessively long legs; those being more than the usual 1/3 of overall body length. So if you were a 6′ model with an inseam of 39 or 40″, this would be ideal to the industry.

    It would not surprise me if a certain percentage of those looking to undertake this, are indeed women who have the overall bone structure to model, but not the desired height.

  20. I broke my leg in the wrong place when I was younger, and so that leg stopped growing. My doctor always said this was an alternative down the line if I wanted to remedy it. If it was painless and safe, I would consider it, but I’m perfectly healthy now, and despite it being weird to walk without shoes (I have a lift normally and so it feels like walking on the side of a hill without the lift), I’m fine. Marathon runner, actually.

  21. My mom would probably consider this (actually I think she did, briefly). For various reasons she’s shorter than she should be and one of her legs is about a centimeter shorter than the other, which causes her huge problems. I think the pain would be a turnoff, though.

  22. studies clearly show our society values taller people more than shorter ones. they are more successful in business as well as attracting mates.

    If i had the possibility when i was younger i would have taken it. (5′)

  23. 6’3″
    hey ladies
    I watched a program filmed in Britain a couple years back where a young woman who wanted to be a professional airline stewardess was too short, so she underwent this progressive and painful surgery. When the airline she intended on applying to caught wind of her efforts she was promised a position with their company upon completion of her studies.
    I think cosmetic surgery such as this is an extremity and somewhat vain. Society will inherently bite down on whatever falls short of the status quo. Glory glory hallelujah.

  24. There’s a joke in the yoga world that women in Beverly Hills will start having ‘elastic surgery’ so that they can get their heels to the mat in down dog.

  25. @7:
    I just showed that flick to my students and swore to them that it was impossible to make yourself taller. Go figure, huh? I’m posting a link for them tonight as a mea culpa.

  26. “studies clearly show…taller people…are more successful in business as well as attracting mates.”

    I was 6’2″ at 18, and I’ve been a miserable failure at business, as well as divorced four times. So you know what I think they can do with those studies….

  27. I gained a few inches in height simply by moving to Japan. back ‘home’ i’m always staring at people’s chins, but over here i’m taller than about 90% of the people I meet. Far less painful than surgery, though several years of adjustment were required.

  28. …Of course, the real question is whether the NBA will ban players who have this surgery in order to increase their height above 6’5″ :-P

  29. I used to work for a startup company (in Alaska, no less) that had a patent to build a micro controller-based device to automatically “stretch the limb” in small increments. Traditionally this was done by ratchet devices that were twisted by the patient 4 times per day (approx. 0.25 mm per twist) – ouch! Our device did it in 1440 steps per day

    A few comments:
    -In Russia (of course), where large scale studies were performed (Dr. Ilizaroff) it was determined that, in cases of dwarfish, performing this procedure on the long bones (multiple) caused the patient to grow all over and proportionally.
    -We were not targeting the cosmetic market, but that’s where the eventual long term profit and growth was supposed to come from. Were received many inquiries from model types and other fools who wanted to be “a few inches taller”.
    -The national organizations for people who suffer from dwarfism were completely down on it, because they are more about adapting to their condition and gaining acceptance as such.

    We went out of business due to trying to get to market too quickly without enough testing cycles, etc. and the company that made the ratchet devices bought it up and dragged their heels getting it to market because they were making good money with the low-tech.

    The Autogenesis Automator was the product name. I walked away with a great learning experience and some crazy stories.

  30. I’d like to retort to everyone saying “be yourself” that that’s hogwash. We’re all cyborgs. This is just one more step in the direction of self-modification and morphological freedom. I first heard of this body modification procedure well over a decade ago, typically for little people (i.e. dwarfs and midgets) who desired to gain a few inches. Later it was “popularized” in GATTACA.

    However, those individuals choosing this procedure or breast implants or whatever are being far more honest with themselves regarding what it means to be human, than the hippy-dippy naturalists.

  31. …Of course, the real question is whether the NBA will ban players who have this surgery in order to increase their height above 6’5″ :-P

    In Major League Baseball (MLB), apparently LASIK eye surgery for superhuman eyesight is ok, and single-minded extreme diet and exercise are ok, but anabolic steroids (and human growth hormone) are taboo. People are not rationally reconciling their opinions on the issue of body modification as “cheating” in professional sports.

  32. FYI:
    A few fun bits of info.

    Normally, one’s reach (measured from end of 1 middle finger to the other across the back to avoid deflection of the tape measure) is equal to one’s height.

    You can do about 2-3 inches in the lower leg and if you want to go nuts, another 2-ish in the thigh.

    The best guy I’ve heard in the field is Dr. Robert Rozbruch at the Hospital For Special Surgery in NYC.
    (btw, can’t Even Imagine going to a foreign country for this procedure).

    Short of changing the mandible, this magic-trick surgery is about the riskiest thing you could have done to your bones and requires almost a year total of 1 type of PT or another getting you back on your feet.

    Contrary to popular belief, men are usually the ones with longer legs relative to torso size, sometimes ~20% longer.

    Ex: Sit on the floor with your back Perfectly flat against a wall. Then measure from the top of your head to the floor. Subtract from your total height standing. Now you know your own torso/leg proportion.

  33. #38:

    “I walked away with … some crazy stories.”

    I’ll bet you did. If you ever post or blog them, let us know.

  34. “However, those individuals choosing this procedure or breast implants or whatever are being far more honest with themselves regarding what it means to be human, than the hippy-dippy naturalists.”

    Um, I don’t think you and G.E.Moore are on the same wavelength, but to think of the old man as a ‘hippy-dippy’ philosopher is not without its amusement. However, I hardly think that self-modifiers are driven by a desire to define their humanity; it’s mere vanity, not a desire for transcendent evolution, that powers that urge. Unless, of course, the essence of being human is to desire to be a machine.

  35. I don’t know… I have sympathy for guys who do this, though I wish they weren’t desperate enough to hurt their bodies this way. We live in a world where height, like weight and breast size and various other things, affects your life in major ways. Hopefully the surgery will become less painful and expensive in the future, turning into a saner option.

  36. I have sympathy for guys who do this, though I wish they weren’t desperate enough to hurt their bodies this way.

    “So is cutting people with knives. But you can totally get away with that if you have a doctor coat on.” — Gregory House

    Um, I don’t think you and G.E.Moore are on the same wavelength, but to think of the old man as a ‘hippy-dippy’ philosopher is not without its amusement. However, I hardly think that self-modifiers are driven by a desire to define their humanity; it’s mere vanity, not a desire for transcendent evolution, that powers that urge. Unless, of course, the essence of being human is to desire to be a machine.

    Man-machine is a false dichotomy. Syd Mead perhaps said it best:

    The fashionable ideology that “artificial” lacks the inherent goodness of “natural” is an appealing, but hopelessly simplistic notion of the intellectually chic. Artifice is the result of a deliberate intent to make. Nature also “makes” things, using a set of basic building blocks common throughout the universe. Exchanging infinite time for deliberate design, nature has ingeniously built plants, planets, galaxies and unimaginable constructs which seem to structure the universe itself. What we call “natural” is simply the result of whatever set of rules nature has followed in fashioning our observable reality. On planet Earth, nature has manipulated the common elements to fashion everything from bacteria to the molten core of the planet. Discoveries in the “nano” technologies of bio, molecular, and micro engineering will re-edit the nomenclature of “natural” versus “unnatural”, blurring if not erasing the line of distinction between “machine” and “organism”, “natural” and “unnatural”, “God-given” and “man-made”.

  37. Just like #20, I had a similar procedure done – not for aesthetic reasons, but because from birth, my right leg had been *considerably* shorter than the left one. It was either “Wear a special kind of plateau shoe (and never be able to walk around on the beach like other people) for the rest of your life.” – or: “Do something.”

    Let’s just say childhood wasn’t always fun, with the plateau shoe getting higher as I did.

    So when I was all grown up and my eight-year quasi-marriage had just blown up in my face, I did something. It was the Russian Ilizarov method mentioned by #38, brought to (near-)perfection by a team in Wiesbaden, Germany (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ilizarov_apparatus – don’t look at the images if you have a weak stomach).

    I will spare you the details, but it was the most brutal experience of my life (I was 30 then, I’m 40 now).

    Yes, they break your bones (very carefully).

    They insert a complicated steel framework in the upper and lower part of your broken leg, connecting both with very long screws.

    They give you crutches and teach you how to use them.

    And after a few weeks, they send you home with a kind of screwdriver, so you can add a millimeter of length to the broken leg every day. You do this yourself; why should surgeons have all the fun?

    So 30 days = 3 cm, when everything goes fine (I understand it never does).

    They also give you pretty strong analgesics.

    I learned a lot during that time; about pain, about friends, family, pain, sleep. Again, I’ll leave out the details.

    The most exciting lesson you will take home from this is that your body – that unreliable, messy, fragile blood-and-bones-machine – is an *amazing* thing. Because if it really, really has to, it will grow new flesh. Longer muscles. Longer nerves. It isn’t exactly pretty, you’ll probably get infections (which are treated with strong antibiotics), and in my case, a second surgery (which took another six months) because things didn’t turn out as planned with the first one.

    But in the end, this unreliable, weakened body has grown a frickin’ *8 centimeters* of tissue, muscles, nerves, veins and whatever else is required. That’s 3.14 inches for the US. When it was over, I was told they never did that much before on a grown-up.

    As I said, this was ten years ago. I hear they are using remote-controlled, implanted micro-motors to do the stretching part now, so no more screwdrivers. The clinic where this surgery was performed doesn’t exist anymore, although I hear they did wonders for kids back then, whose bones are much easier to break and stretch than those of an old fart like me.

    Today, I have two legs that are *exactly* the same length – a good anecdote at parties, as every orthopedist worth his money will tell you that most people have a slight difference in leg length.

    I don’t.

    And the stretched new leg looks pretty good except for the scars (there is another slightly bizarre story about how the steel wires were removed after the second surgery, but this is the third and last detail I’ll leave out – it involves a distracted doctor, more analgesics and half a bottle of champagne).

    Happy ending: I do lots of sports today (Inline skating, bicycle and fitness), no-one seeing me in jeans would know what I have been through, and the only pain I feel are the first few steps in the morning.

    Nevertheless: Don’t try this, kids, if you don’t really, really have to. It’s not pretty.

  38. #45, What is this omnipotent, omniscent force Mead calls ‘Nature’? ‘nature does…nature uses…nature makes…’ I know a God concept when i hear one. What a big busy supernatural bee buzzing about the universe making and moving shit!

  39. I had a friend who had this (or similar) surgery done to even out his legs as a child. Then, his “fixed,” (formerly shorter) leg grew. Apparently, it would have caught up to the longer one naturally. His “long” leg was then shorter than the surgically corrected leg, and he had to have the procedure again. Middle/high school were excruciatingly unpleasant years for him.

    The end result? He is absurdly tall and has body proportions remarkably like Kermit the Frog. Maybe I wouldn’t notice the disproportionate length of his legs if his waist wasn’t at my eye level. Maybe he already had somewhat long legs in relation to his body. But I’d think in many people it will throw your body proportions way off and it will certainly cause you absolute agony in the process. Based on his experience, I can’t imagine ever opting to do this to gain height. Plus, if the first thing women notice about you is your physical likeness to a Muppet, I don’t think your lot has much improved.

    (I apologize for posting anon, but I realized my friend might be a BB reader and suddenly realize I’ve always thought of him as “Kermit.”)

  40. Congratulations, #44. Another’s pain is impossible to feel, but it’s just as impossible to ignore yours and not feel admiration for your determination and endurance. Finally, it was not about vanity, was it? It was about mobility and dignity.

  41. Hello!

    I actually run the forum mentioned earlier “Make Me Taller” and I feel the need to defend the reputation and calibre of my members…

    Whilst some of our members are undoubtedly ‘odd’, the huge majority are educated, professional people who simply wanted to be taller and found a way to do so.

    It is not particularly dangerous or painful, for most, but of course, like surgery, it carries risks.

    This is a great article, but I think that you should check out some of our diaries (including mine!) to get a real perspective on people who have been through the procedure.

    Best wishes,

    MMT Administrator

  42. that whole thing about being taller to attract females is straight bull. studies? LOL. im personally 5’5″ and i get attention all day from females because im very attractive in the face and body (i workout) and ive never had problems getting the females. i have tall friends that hate their lives cuz i was getting all the girls and still do..also a 6’4″ guy approached me one day at the gym and thought he can intimidate me for looking at him. the truth is, i did look at him the wrong way. this might sound like im lieing, but in the end, the guy walked away shaking. i carry myself very serious and have a serious look all the time. it’s all in your personality, how you carry yourself. i have more respect for a shorter serious man than some lanky taller immature dorky man.

  43. the last comment is the most wondeful one …..i appreciate it alot. and it’s actually bring the confidence bace to me. thank u so much.

  44. I’m 5’6. Average by Asian standards, what motivates me to go through the bone breaking horror is my disproportionately short legs, at 30”. I’m a pain baby, but the possibility of turning crippled is a major concern discourging me. Perhaps I’d really go for it, when I’m rich enough to live the rest of my life without working or when I’m fed up with life.

  45. I’m 5’2 and if I had $120,000 I would absolutely add 3 inches to my legs and have my arms lengthened to match. Now if there was also a doctor who could surgically lengthen the spine as well, then I would be set. I would love to say 5’6+ here I come.

  46. My doctor said I’m 5’5½”. I think I’m 5’7″ because my friend that is 5’5″ and looks shorter than me. I’m a 20 year old male and I want to get taller. Even though many doctors say I’ll never get taller I think that’s not true because I have another friend that shot 4″ and he was 22. I live in NYC and I feel insecure about my height. I feel like a lot of friends and people tower me. I’ve always wanted to be 6 feet tall but looking at my circumstances I don’t that will ever happen. I’d like to be 5’10” which is fine by me. I only need 3-5 inches. Is that too much to ask? I just want to be taller because I know I’d be more confident about myself. I really hate my height and I’d like to have a girlfriend that’s average height which is 5’7″. No offense to anyone that’s shorter than that but I’m just saying. Anyway. I’d go for the surgery honestly but all I really need is 3-5 inches. Does anyone think I could get 3-5 inches taller without surgery? Any recommendations? Exercise? Pills? what?

  47. i am 5’2” and i want to undergo this surgery to gain at least 4 inches.From my childhood i have undergone the agony of being smaller than others.I am 25 now.Being laughed out does not bother me any more.But it is because of physical abuse that i want to undergo this surgery.People try to take every advantage of my height.I am being pushed away and threatened for no reason.Bigger guys bully me just to score in front of their girlfriends.Girls consider me untouchable.I do not think that the pain of undergoing the surgery could be worse than the pain of life long insult

  48. To all the people here who expressed doubts or are curious about limb lengthening, i’m the admin of forum to provide a free, open environment in which people can seriously discuss issues relating to Leg Lengthening and other surgery designed specifically for height enhancement.

    This board has three simple aims though:

    1. Giving people an opportunity to become properly informed about LL before considering it by properly exploring the risks, costs and timescales involved;
    2. Identifying the right procedure, the best surgeon and the most convenient location for their LL;
    3. Supporting those who have made the decision to have LL by giving them an opportunity to share their experiences with others, to get advice from those who have already done it, and to get words of encouragement from others – especially important as many people undergo LL in secret.


  49. there are an american way much better than this, the “russian way” developed 50 years ago. So, height increae – behind american surgery – is save! i’m 5’6.5 and i hate my height, i would like to be 5’9

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