Short men are often perceived as drawing the short straw. They get mocked by dating apps, they’re less likely to become CEOs (according to some studies) and they are apparently more likely to commit violent crimes.
It’s not surprising then, that many short men wish they were taller.
What is surprising is the lengths some short men are going to in order to get taller. In fact, hundreds of men a year are paying surgeons to cut open their femurs, insert rods inside them, and then spend months recovering.
After the operation, the rod, which is controlled by a remote, increases in length, millimetre by millimetre, until the leg is 3 inches (about 7.62cm) longer (some even get the operation done twice, once on their femurs and then a second time on their tibias, increasing their height by 6 inches).
According to heightlengthening.com, “It is not recommended to perform lengthening on the femurs and tibias simultaneously due to higher complication rates including fat embolism, joint contracture and nerve damage; however, a staged procedure of both can be performed with 3-4 weeks in between each procedure.”
These kinds of procedures, though they have come a long way since their origins, are understandably intimidating. They started off a hundred-odd years ago as a way to give war victims (or car crash victims) legs of the same length and weren’t something people just elected to do until the last 10 years or so. According to the BBC, “the technique was pioneered by Gavril Ilizarov, a Soviet doctor treating injured soldiers returning from World War Two.”
“While the surgery has evolved over the last 70 years, many of the principles remain the same.”BBC
When you think about the risks (even though the risk of complications is apparently less than 5% combined) and the pain, it’s not hard to see why it took so long for people to start doing this for cosmetic reasons. Even though one surgeon who does the procedure claims “most of these risks” (speaking about compartment syndrome, infection, blood clots, joint stiffness, hardware failure, poor bone development and early consolidation) are “less than 5% combined” it’s easy to see why it’s intimidating. It’s also reportedly quite a long and painful operation.
On heightlengthening.com‘s FAQ page it states: “Pain is relative, but you will have enough pain medications to make the recovery process very comfortable for you.”
Patient testimony, however, seems to indicate that the physical discomfort can be tough.
Customers spend up to a year recovering. This starts off with the help of devices like wheelchairs and ‘walkers.’ Patients also need physical therapy and x-rays to keep track of progress as the bone heals around the (lengthening) rod. The rod is eventually removed when the bone is strong enough (and the bone has been grown to the desired new length).
If everything goes well, patients can run after 8 months and play competitive sport after one year, one surgeon who performs the procedure, claims. Little detailed information is available on how, exactly, the procedure impacts one’s athletic performance, but common sense suggests it likely has a negative impact.
Things can go wrong too. One man who the BBC reported on in 2020 ended up with a three-inch gap, for instance.
“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,” he said.
It’s also quite expensive. Buzzfeed News recently spoke to one patient who elected to get this surgery, as well as the surgeon – @heightlengthening – who performed it. According to their report, getting the 3 inch lengthening done costs $75,000 (AU $106,443). That’s the same price as an Audi A5 Sportback.
Or if you want to do the 6-inch option (via two surgeries three to four weeks apart), @heightlengthening says it’s $155,000 (AU $220,000). That’s almost the price of a brand new Porsche 911…
So, even if the surgeon says it’s a less than 5% risk of complications, why do guys risk their physical integrity and athletic ability (and spend so much money), just to gain a couple of inches in height? According to the man Buzzfeed News interviewed, for him, it was as much a mental health decision as anything else.
The man told said he thought of the procedure as sickening when he first heard about it in high school. But aged 35 he came around to it.
“I was not treated with respect,” he told Buzzfeed News, speaking about his life pre-surgery.
“At every single workplace I’ve been in, there’ve been several situations where people commented on my height to discredit me entirely as a person.”
“I was waking up two hours before my alarm every day just to walk around the neighbourhood and cry.”
He then had a lightbulb moment where he realised he could just solve the problem with money, he said. This gave him a goal to work towards.
“When I realized what was really holding me back was the obstacle of money, I was like, ‘Oh, it’s just a game. If I can get $75,000, then I’m done feeling like this.’”
He’s not alone, either. The BBC reports that hundreds of people around the world are getting this kind of operation every year.
Surgeon @heightlengthening (Dr. Shahab Mahboubian) believes interest has been on the increase too during the pandemic, telling Buzzfeed News, “Since a lot of people had more time on their hands, they opted to undergo their procedure.”
Dr. Mahboubian acknowledges the potential complications of the surgery but claims that if his patients listen to him and do their proper therapy they’ll be fine.
Dr. Mahboubian says he starts his patients on antibiotics right away so as to avoid infection, puts them on blood thinners because there’s a risk of blood clots and advises them to use walkers because there is a risk the rods (or as he calls them, nails) could break.
“As some patients lengthen, they could make too much bone. Others may not make enough bone,” he also told Buzzfeed News, explaining that this is why his patients get regular x-rays to monitor progress.
Now… please excuse us while we go and take a lie down. That’s enough mind-blowing information to absorb for one day.