This procedure uses surgery and devices to correct a leg length difference over a period of time. The process triggers bone growth and soft tissue lengthening.
Reasons for Procedure
This procedure may be done on people who have a length difference due to:
- Trauma, such as a leg fracture
- Bone infection
- Congenital defect or other condition that affects bone growth, such as Klippel-Trenaunay syndrome
- Short stature, such as dwarfism
- Cerebral palsy
Leg lengthening can improve walking and lower the risk of other problems. Several inches of leg length may be added.
Problems are rare, but all procedures have some risk. The doctor will go over some problems that could happen, such as:
- Excess bleeding
- Problems from anesthesia, such as wheezing or sore throat
- Blood clots
- Joint stiffness
- Bone length may be longer or shorter than planned
- Muscle contraction (muscle shortens)
- Nerve injury
- Problems with the new bone forming
Things that may raise the risk of problems are:
What to Expect
Prior to Procedure
The surgical team may meet with you to talk about:
- Anesthesia options
- Any allergies you may have
- Current medicines, herbs, and supplements that you take and whether you need to stop taking them before surgery
- Fasting before surgery, such as avoiding food or drink after midnight the night before
- Arranging for a ride to and from surgery
- Tests that will need to be done before surgery, such as images
The doctor may give:
Description of the Procedure
This procedure will be done in stages. The first stage is a procedure called an osteotomy. An incision will be made in the leg and the bone will be cut. A leg fixation device will be selected. This will stabilize the bone while it is being lengthened. Options are:
- External fixation device—This framed device is positioned around the leg. Pins and wires are placed through the skin and tissue to reach the bone and lengthen it. Some have a dial attached to the frame. This dial is turned to slowly lengthen the bone.
- Internal fixation device—This is placed inside the leg. It is positioned on the bone. Some of these devices have a nail with a tool that automatically lengthens the bone. In some people , it is used with the external device.
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This stage may start a few days or weeks after the osteotomy and last for a couple of months. The body will slowly regenerate new bone in the small space that was created between the bone ends.
The bone heals during the next stage. X-rays will be taken. The fixation devices will be removed when the healing is complete.
How Long Will It Take?
The osteotomy can take about 2 hours.
The lengthening process can take 2 to 3 months.
Will It Hurt?
Pain and swelling are common in the first few weeks. Medicine and home care can help.
Average Hospital Stay
The usual length of stay is 1 to 3 days. If you have problems, you may need to stay longer.
At the Hospital
Right after the procedure, the staff will:
- Give you pain medicine
- Encourage you to walk using crutches or a walker
- Teach you how to care for and adjust the fixation device
During your stay, the hospital staff will take steps to lower your risk of infection, such as:
- Washing their hands
- Wearing gloves or masks
- Keeping your incisions covered
There are also steps you can take to lower your risk of infection, such as:
- Washing your hands often and reminding visitors and staff to do the same
- Reminding staff to wear gloves or masks
- Not letting others touch your incisions
The process can take up to 6 months to complete. Physical activity will be limited during this time. You will need to ask for help with daily activities and delay your return to work.
Call Your Doctor
Call the doctor if you are not getting better or you have:
- Signs of infection, such as fever, chills
- Redness, swelling, excessive bleeding, or discharge around the incision or pin and wire sites
- Pain that you cannot control with medicine
- Pain and swelling in the feet, calves, or legs
- Numbness, tingling, or loss of feeling in the leg, knee, or foot
If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.
American Orthopaedic Association
Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
The Arthritis Society
Canadian Orthopaedic Association
Klippel-trenaunay syndrome. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/klippel-trenaunay-syndrome. Accessed August 2, 2021.
Limb length discrepancy. Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/limb-length-discrepancy. Accessed August 2, 2021.
Limb lengthening: An overview. Hospital for Special Surgery website. Available at: http://www.hss.edu/conditions_limb-lengthening-overview.asp. Accessed August 2, 2021.
Limb lengthening. Scottish Rite Hospital for Children website. Available at: http://www.tsrhc.org/limb-lengthening. Accessed August 2, 2021.
Last reviewed July 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Warren A. Bodine, DO, CAQSM Last Updated: 8/2/2021