The Guardian recently reported that limb lengthening surgery is becoming a hugely popular practice in India, but that many of the surgeries were unregulated and risky. Limb lengthening, which most often means leg lengthening but can also include arms, is a more common practice than you might realise in Europe and the UK.
Specialists doctors across Europe have been carrying out these legal surgeries for years. Some of the most common patients are athletes, models and those with dwarfism, along with those seeking it as a form of cosmetic surgery.
With limb lengthening becoming more widespread, what could be the implications for athletes and how does it work?
What is limb lengthening surgery?
Limb lengthening techniques vary, but inevitably involve breaking and “stretching” limbs to increase the overall length of the bone during healing. One of the pioneers of limb lengthening surgery is Dr Jean-Marc Guichet who boasts that his patients are able to cycle just 20 minutes after surgery.
Typically one could expect to walk within a week to a month of surgery, dependant on the patient, but as we see from India, many take several months to become comfortable walking again. However, as Dr Guichet points out, the success levels for his surgeries are based largely on the patient adhering to a strict training regime for months before surgery. This is to ensure that enough muscle strength is retained during the 4-6 month recovery period as the bones heals.
Patients grow 6.7cm on average for about £12,000
Limb lengthening surgery prices range, depending on insurance and if you are choosing it for cosmetic reasons. Typically, it would set you back 15,000 Euros, or £12,000.
While the surgery itself will increase the length of the patient’s limb, it is during the follow up that further lengthening is achieved. With the Guichet Nail, named after the creator himself, a patient will gain on average 6.7cm. Directly after surgery a few centimeters are gained immediately, but the patient must work the limb to increase “clicks” of the nail to increase limb length afterwards, exercising every 8 hours.
How do longer limbs help athletes?
Many of the patients of limb lengthening surgery are sports persons and athletes, including runners and cyclists. For these two groups in particular, the extra few inches of length, particularly in the legs, will create certain sporting advantages.
For cyclist, a longer limb can increase their rotation for pedalling, increasing torque and leading to more power. For runners, the overall stride increases, helping them to travel further with each step. While small increases may not be clear from the outside, when competing, even small changes to body type, height and speed can have a huge impact on an athlete’s success overall.
Limb lengthening can clearly be used to increase sports performance, with more advantages in certain fields, but does that mean you should be seeking out the surgery? It’s safe and proven successful but you would have to really need that small but significant gain in your limbs to make it worth the time and financial cost.