Devise Technique for Lengthening Limbs
by Dr. Rock Positano
Daily News - October 17, 1999
Spotlight on Health
Special to the Sunday News
People whose limbs are short either because they were born
that way or because of amputation or accident can get longer
and better limbs thanks to a Russian procedure.
The method was devised in Russia because of horrific numbers of injured
World War II veterans whose legs and arms refused to mend properly.
The bones failed to "knit" or bind together end to end.
Medics attached rods to the limbs and told the affected patients to
compress the bone ends together. This worked very well for shortening
the fractured limb and rejoining the parts. But when a patient did
the procedure the wrong way, it lengthened the joined ends, doctors
physicians noticed that new bone had formed in the gap between the
bone ends," said Dr. Robert Rozbruch, an expert in limb-lengthening
surgical procedures at the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan.
"This was beginning of much research and development that showed
that limb lengthening was possible, safe and effective."
Rozbruch said limb lengthening and reconstruction techniques can be
used to replace missing bone and lengthen and/or straighten deformed
bone segments. These procedures may be performed on children and adults
who suffer from birth defects, disease or injury.
The limb lengthening and deformity correction process involves gradually
pulling apart bones that are cut in surgery, leading to new bone formation.
It is possible to lengthen bone segments from 15% to 100% of their
original length. Rozbruch adds that the regenerated bone is normal
bone and does not wear out. "The muscles, nerves and blood vessels
grow in response to the slow stretch as they do during a growth spurt
or in pregnancy," he said.
Surprisingly, limb-lengthening procedure are minimally invasive and
usually require a one- or two-night hospital stay. Patients do not
experience great pain and discomfort afterward. The majority of patients
can continue to walk during the treatment.
Who can benefit? Anyone with arm or leg length differences, even with
one abnormally long limb and average (normal) limb. The procedures
can also help those with birth defects such as dwarfism, fibular hemimelia,
congenital short femur and congenital limb shortenings.
Everyday trauma, such as an accident injury, can lead to growth-plate
fracture that can result in limb length differences. A segment of
bone can be missing after a bone tumor, infection or severe fracture.
New bone can be transported to fill in this defect or gap.
Dwarfs suffer from not being able to reach phones, toilets and gas
pedals. With the new procedure, "We have been able to lengthen
achondroplastic dwarf patients 12 inches in the leg and 5 inches in
the arms," said Rozbruch. This procedure renders people more
Initially, there was much resistance and skepticism about this technique
from the orthopedists in this country. However, it has proven to be
very powerful and effective procedure, especially when performed by
surgeons with special training.