The Ilizarov Procedure is a surgical operation for
correcting bone deformities, traumatic injuries, and lengthening of
limbs that are of irregular size. In this procedure, the limbs
are gradually straightened or stretched, and allowed to strengthen.
Professor Gavriil Abramovich Ilizarov invented and improved the
surgical procedure that bears his name in the years following World War
II, while stationed as a medical doctor in Kirgan, Siberia. Doctor
Ilizarov received many patients with severe war traumas and bone
deformities, and faced with a lack of medicine and supplies, he created
his own orthopedic recovery technique that is still being used today.
At the heart of the Ilizarov Procedure is a mechanical device called
the Ilizarov Fixator. The fixator consists of two circular
frames at that surround the limb concentrically. Wires run axially from
one end of the frame through holes in the bone, to the other
end of the frame. The wires anchor the two frames at specific locations
on the limb. Several rods are attached between the two frames, encasing
the limb. This type of fixator can be used to heal a bone that has been
broken at a location between the two circular frames. The advantage of
the fixator over a (plaster or fiberglass) cast is that limb
movement is less restricted, reducing muscle atrophy.
The Ilizarov Procedure works on the principle of distraction
osteogenesis. The limb that is to be corrected is perforated
several times around the bone to obtain a clean break (corticotomy).
The bone marrow and blood vessels must be spared as they are essential
for successful bone regrowth. The Ilizarov Fixator is attached to the
broken limb, and the bone is allowed to regrow. Each day, the two frames
are pushed apart by readjustment of the interconnecting rods. This
process effectively lengthens the bone.
Bones can be grown at approximately one millimeter per day. Thus, a
limb can be grown one inch in approximately one month. If the frames are
pushed apart at faster rates, the bone may become too brittle, or bone
growth could stop entirely. For each month of bone lengthening, the
cast needs to be worn for an additional two months to allow hardening
of the bone tissue.
A photo in the New York Times shows a young
Chinese woman with both her legs in Ilizarov Fixators. She has
been in the painful leg-stretching therapy for 22 months, in order to
gain 4 inches in height. The procedure has failed: the young woman can
no longer walk.
The Ilizarov Procedure is commonly used for cosmetic purposes in
China. Height is a physical trait that many Chinese men and women look
for in their potential partner. It also opens up well paid job
opportunities such as foreign diplomacy (China's Foreign Ministry
requires male applicants to be 5-foot-7 tall). It should come to no
surprise that hundreds of Chinese men and women resort to methods to
increase their height, such as hormone therapy and the Ilizarov
Unfortunately, many of these people are being treated by doctors who
are not properly trained in the Ilizarov Procedure. They end up with
brittle or permanently broken bones, problems with walking, nerve
damage, and misaligned feet. Despite the risks and the $6000 price tag,
increasing numbers of people are undergoing the operation.
New York Times, Sunday May 5, 2002, p.3.