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Limb Lengthening: A cosmetic height surgery that's gaining popularity

Limb Lengthening: A cosmetic height surgery that's gaining popularity
Limb Lengthening: A cosmetic height surgery that's gaining popularity 04:12

BALTIMORE — Have you ever wished you were a little taller? More people are now choosing surgery to make their legs longer. A procedure performed here in Baltimore can add several inches to your height. 

Linh Bui talked to a doctor and a patient to learn more about this cosmetic trend.

Doctor Michael Assayag with the "International Center for Limb Lengthening" in Baltimore says "cosmetic height surgery" or "stature lengthening" is growing in popularity.

"A few years ago, I would get a couple inquiries a week. Now I get up to five inquiries per day of people who would like to be taller," he says. "I wouldn't be surprised if in ten years, it became just a popular as breast augmentations or rhinoplasties."

He says not only has technology improved, but more people are talking about it. Doctor Assayag says his patients are 75 percent male and 25 percent female. He also says the vast majority do *not tell their families.

"There's always been a certain stigma concerning height, whether you're a man or woman," he says. "And being taller is seen as being more successful, more handsome, more everything in our society. You're taken more seriously."

We spoke with one of his patients, who does not want to be identified.

"You have a tendency to blame all your failures on this one thing - your height," he says.

He was just under 5'8" when had surgery in January, and now he's almost 5'11".

"It's something I've been thinking about for a long time," he says. "It always used to bother me that I was below average height. So when I had funds and the ability to do it, I thought it was time."

The body has a natural ability to regenerate bone. For cosmetic height surgery, doctors break either your thigh bones or your shin bones, and insert a device that has the ability to lengthen. As the device slowly pulls the two bone segments apart, new bone forms in the space between them, and hardens. With one surgery, you can be up to three inches taller. With two surgeries, you could be up to six inches taller. Doctor Assayag says it's a relatively safe procedure, if done in the right hands.

"Like any surgery, there's a risk of infection. There's a risk of blood clot. There's a risk - if left unchecked - that the bone doesn't heal. If done too fast, the joints (the hips, knees, and ankles) become too tight," he says. "If done too fast and left unchecked, there's a risk of creating numbness and in the worst cases, paralysis."

Doctor Assayag says he has a 100 percent satisfaction rate, and calls the surgery "life changing."

"People stop thinking about their height. They stop being concerned about their height. And they can start living their life to the fullest."

The entire process takes six to nine months, and includes aggressive physical therapy daily. Doctor Assayag says his patients do get back to normal with physical activity, but some lose "explosive power" like jumping or sprinting. A few months post-surgery, this patient can now walk on crutches, drive, and is back in the gym. 

"Surgery is very smooth, it's more the process afterward that was more challenging. The p.t., the actual lengthening, keeping up with stretching and mobility exercises. That was the most challenging part."

He says being three inches taller hasn't really hit him yet, but he feels a heightened sense of relief, and agrees a few inches makes a big difference.

"From a mental state, I just feel like this is something that has been on my mind for so long. To have done it finally is just liberating. I can't really put in into words. "

Health insurance does not cover cosmetic height surgery. At the "International Center for Limb Lengthening" in Sinai Hospital, femur lengthening costs $60,000 to $73,000, and tibia lengthening costs $77,000.

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