Limb lengthening is a procedure to lengthen the bones in the arms or legs. This is done as a gradual process, so that the bones and soft tissues (skin, muscles, nerves, etc.) slowly increase in length. Typically, the process take several months. Limb lengthening can also be combined with gradual or acute deformity correction. At the International Center for Limb Lengthening, we routinely lengthen the humerus (upper arm bone), radius/ulna (forearm), femur (thigh bone), tibia (shin bone) and metatarsals (bones in the foot that affect toe length).
During surgery, the doctor will cut the bone to create two separate bone segments. The surgical procedure to cut a bone is called an osteotomy. Additional soft-tissue procedures may be done at the same time to prepare the muscles and nerves for lengthening. For example, surgically lengthening the Achilles tendon may be done to make a tibial (shin bone) lengthening go easier. The doctor will also apply an orthopedic lengthening device to the bone. Orthopedic lengthening devices that are inserted into the bone are called internal devices, such as the Precice nail. Orthopedic lengthening devices that remain outside of the body are called external fixators, such as the Taylor Spatial Frame or the Ilizarov device.
After surgery, the bones are allowed to rest for five to seven days to begin the healing process. This period of time is called the latency period. After the latency period, the patient will adjust the orthopedic device so that it slowly pulls apart the two bone segments. This gradual process of slowly separating the two bone segments is called distraction, which means "pulling apart". As the two bone segments are slowly pulled apart, new bone forms in the space between them. This new bone increases the overall length of the bone. The new bone is called regenerate bone.