Chester H. Sharps, MD, Tuckahoe OrthopaedicBy Chester H. Sharps, MD

There are a great number of reasons someone might be looking into a limb lengthening procedure. Generally performed on the legs, many candidates have experienced an injury that shortened one leg. There may have been damage to a growth plate in the affected leg. Other candidates include those who contracted an infection, and those born with a congenital leg issue.

Let’s explore the new trends in limb lengthening, specifically the intramedullary nail, and determine if this limb lengthening surgery might be what you’re looking for.

Traditional Limb Lengthening Surgery

In the old process of limb lengthening, the bone was cut. After the cut was made, pins and wires were put in the leg above and below the bone cut. A screw-like apparatus was then used to “jack” apart and lengthen the leg to the desired length. This method of limb lengthening resulted in scarring, increased levels of pain, and a high rate of infection.

Limb Lengthening With A Self-Lengthening Nail

With the traditional limb lengthening procedure being somewhat complicated, doctors have spent many years investigating other ways to achieve this same result. Within the last year, the FDA approved a new procedure that mitigates the risks and offers added benefits for patients seeking even limb lengths. The new way of limb lengthening involves using what is known as a motorized intramedullary nail.

In the use of a motorized intramedullary nail, the nail is put in the middle of the bone and anchored using screws on the inside of the leg. There is a push button on the outside of the leg that activates a motor inside the nail. The leg can then be lengthened by 1mm a day until the desired length is achieved. After you’ve reached the desired limb length, you enter into a consolidation phase. Let’s get a better look at the recovery from this procedure.

Limb Lengthening Surgery Recovery

Lower extremity limb lengthening procedures involve either the tibia or the femur. The lengthening time for this procedure is approximately one day per mm. After this time is completed, the consolidation phase begins. The consolidation phase usually lasts between two to four months and it’s during this time that the gap between the two pieces of bone fills with more bone.

Physical therapy is employed from the beginning. Because the bone has been expanded, the muscles need to be stretched as well. Patients may be advised to eat a nutritious diet and/or take calcium supplements. To speed up the bone healing process, gradual weight-bearing may also be employed.

If you’re interested in this limb lengthening procedure using a motorized intramedullary nail, contact us today to make an appointment.

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