Limb Lengthening Surgery Improves Men's Confidence & Self-Image

simple adult teenager male person with a roll tape measure the height against the wall
Height is still an important factor in societal standing.
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Height still matters, especially for shorter men. Even in an ever-progressing society in 2023, tall men are still looked at as more attractive and more successful. Considering there is an aesthetic procedure for every appearance issue we can think of, it should be no surprise that short men are turning to limb-lengthening surgery.

With one limb lengthening surgery, someone can be up to three inches taller, and with two surgeries, they could be up to six inches taller. The four-hour operation costs $75,000 to $280,000 and is not generally covered by insurance. At least four months of daily physical therapy is required and patients typically use a walker and then a cane to regain mobility.

The procedure is growing in popularity despite being expensive and potentially painful with months of intense physical therapy. The long and insurance-less process is worth it for men who see adding a few extra inches to their frame as a potentially life-changing procedure—and the data seems to suggest they are right. 

Related: Anti-Aging Products' Effects on Self-Esteem

The Effect of Height on Men's Health

There are plenty of studies and surveys that suggest height is an important factor in societal standing. A 2005 study conducted in Sweden and published in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that for every two-inch increase in height, the risk of suicide decreased by 9% in men. 

An April 2006 study at the University of Chicago suggests women prefer tall men for romantic ventures. Men in the 6’3 - 6’4 range reportedly received 65% more first-contact messages than men in the 5’7 - 5’8 range. The study concludes that women have a strong aversion to men who are shorter than themselves, and regardless of their own height, women prefer to meet tall men.

There also appears to be a significant height premium for men in their careers. The same University of Chicago report found that one-inch increases in height are related to a 1.4% increase in earnings. A man who was 5 feet 6 inches tall needed an additional $175,000 to be as desirable as a man who was approximately 6 feet tall and earned $62,500 per year. 

Although both of those studies are almost 20 years old, and the world is more progressive now than it was in 2006, more recent data seems to suggest the trends have not changed. An article in Psychology Today from 2014 explores the link between height and self-esteem, finding that shorter people felt more insecure, intimidated and paranoid. A survey in GQ Magazine found that 27% of men lie about their height on dating apps.

A study cited by WebMD in 2023 found that height may be an advantage when it comes to avoiding dementia. The study of more than 500 people showed that men who are about 5 feet 11 inches or taller are almost 60% less likely to have Alzheimer’s disease than those who are about 5 feet 7 inches or shorter. 

Shorter men also have a greater chance of premature hair loss. A study of more than 22,000 men found four genes that were linked to both male-pattern baldness and shorter stature.

More: Oral Minoxidil is Gaining Popularity as an Alternative Hair Loss Treatment

Limb-Lengthening Surgery

With a clear amount of societal pressure, men are turning to medical aesthetics to improve their lives, whether it be hair rejuvenation, penile enhancement or limb lengthening. 

Shahab Mahboubian, D.O., MPH, an orthopedic surgeon in California specializing in limb lengthening and deformity correction surgery, describes leg lengthening in an article from BeautyMatter as breaking the bone and implanting a precise nail that interacts with a magnet that is held on the leg three times a day for three to four months. A person's height lengthens one millimeter each day until the desired height is achieved. Nails are then removed after a year.

David Frumberg, M.D., co-director of the Yale Limb Restoration and Lengthening Program, explains the procedure as cutting the bone in a way that it can be slowly lengthened, either with an external device that connects to the bone through the skin or a motorized rod that goes inside the bone. The technology uses an external device with a control that gradually extends the length of the bone, typically 0.75 to 1 millimeter per day. 

Throughout the day, very slowly, the device lengthens the limb until a point called consolidation is reached, meaning the body has achieved its desired length and regenerated the bone, according to Dr. Frumberg. Doctors need to ensure that when the rod is removed, which typically occurs 10 to 12 months after the initial surgery, the structure will be able to support itself. Dr. Frumberg told United Press International (UPI) that the procedure essentially convinces the body that there's a hairline fracture and sets up a healing response. At Yale Medicine, surgeons rely on 3D technology to achieve ideal results from the procedure.

Although leg-lengthening surgery comes with risks, including nerve injury and a loss of range of motion, the procedure is safe as long as it’s done by experienced surgeons, according to an NBC News report.

The History of Limb-Lengthening Surgery

Limb lengthening procedures have historically been used to correct deformities. In the early 20th century, Alessandro Codivilla of Bologna was the first to apply skeletal traction for bone lengthening. He used acute forced lengthening for short distances. He described another technique for larger distances with continuous extension, using distraction with a calcanean pin and oblique osteotomy, followed by traction of 25–30 kg. More lengthening can then be achieved by applying more traction in stages.

Most of the contemporary knowledge of bone lengthening surgery comes from the Ilizarov method, first developed in the 1950s by Soviet orthopedic surgeon Gavriil Ilizarov to treat complicated bone fractures and deformities. Ilizarov started his work in 1951 by treating a patient with a bone defect using a circular frame and transfixation tensioned wires.

Ilizarov discovered the biological law of tension stress and applied this principle to treat a wide variety of conditions such as nonunion, osteomyelitis, dwarfism, congenital deformities, some bone tumors, bone defects, fractures and bone shortening. The first cosmetic leg-lengthening surgeries began in the late ’80s across Europe. Cosmetic purposes are now the most common reason for the procedure.

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