What do Humphrey Bogart, James Dean, and Prince have in common? Cultural icons? Sure. Dead? Unfortunately, yes. But did you know that all three icons are a part of the 5’8″ and under club? That makes them each at least one inch shorter than the average US male, and unlikely sex symbols in a culture […]

What do Humphrey Bogart, James Dean, and Prince have in common? Cultural icons? Sure. Dead? Unfortunately, yes. But did you know that all three icons are a part of the 5’8″ and under club? That makes them each at least one inch shorter than the average US male, and unlikely sex symbols in a culture that celebrates tall guys.

Given that modern culture values tall men, some shorter people might be looking to medicine, specifically surgery, to deal with their height issues. Though limb-lengthening procedures have been around for decades, the process has improved dramatically over the last ten years. What used to be a lengthy, painful, and often experimental procedure has become not just more reliable, but more common. A simple Google search turns up hundreds of clinics now offering services to stretch one’s limbs.

Dr. Kevin Debiparshad of the LimbplastiX Institute in Las Vegas made the press rounds in early 2020 to tout the successes of his clinic in 2019. According to the Mirror, LimbplastiX helped 30 clients, mostly men, gain between two and six inches in height. The doctor explained the process as follows: “We cut the leg bones, either femur or tibia, and insert a device that slowly stretches them out which makes you taller permanently.” Perhaps even more bizarre and painful sounding, he said that, “[during] post-surgery, [an] external remote control is used by the patient to non-invasively increase their height by 1 millimeter per day at the touch of a button, slowly stretching the legs to increase their height.”

High Risk, High Reward?

Though the previously mentioned celebrity sex symbols may have seemed confident in their appearances, and even inspired fashion trends and dated beautiful women; it doesn’t necesasrily mean that they were comfortable in their own shoes. And while some brands have successfully modernized to include a more broad representation of body types; the classic model-archetype of tall-equals-better persists. Some research suggests that women’s desire for tall partners could be based on evolution; and that relationships where the male partner is taller than the female partner are on average more successful and harmonious. 

As cosmetic procedures become more commonplace and accepted, it’s possible that an increasing number of people could feel negative side effects. It’s worth noting that not all limb-lengthening procedures are done for superficial reasons, sometimes it is necessary following an injury. One Facebook user, Trisha Yates Allen, wrote, “I broke my left femur and fibula in a car accident and also messed up my right ankle. Also lost a tiny bit of length on my left leg. The surgery to repair didn’t work and I’m in pain daily 18 months later.”

Historically, Limb Lengthening Helped In Multiple Ways

Though limb-lengthening procedures haven’t gone completely mainstream, it’s important to remember why they began in the first place. Restorative surgeons have been working tirelessly, for decades, to provide better options for their patients who might be looking to limb-lengthening to increase their quality of life. Cancers, amputations, congenital deformities, dwarfism, and other growth and development disorders have been treated with some type of limb-lengthening procedure, and have resulted in success.

In March of 2020, The Post Star of Glenn Falls, New York reported on 11 year-old Kory Kosinski’s limb lengthening process as part of his dwarfism treatment. Kosinski, who is just over four feet tall, hopes to gain a total of one foot in height from the process. As reported in the article, “Kory was born with achondroplasia, the most common form of dwarfism. He had his first distraction osteogenesis procedure in 2015, during which his leg bones were broken and slowly pulled apart to regenerate new bone. He gained 6 inches from that surgery, and the second will add another six inches to his legs.”