Limb Lengthening & Salvaging Specialist

Wolfson Orthopedics

Nikolaj Wolfson, MD, FRCSC, FACS

Board Certified Orthopedic Surgeon located in Lower Pacific Heights, San Francisco, CA

World-renowned orthopedic surgeon Nikolaj Wolfson, MD, was one of the first to offer the Ilizarov limb-lengthening procedure in the United States. He performs surgery for limb lengthening, extremity reconstruction, and deformity correction at Wolfson Orthopedics in the Lower Pacific Heights neighborhood of San Francisco. To find out if limb lengthening is right for you, call or book an appointment online today.

Limb Lengthening & Salvaging Q & A

What is limb lengthening?

Limb lengthening is a surgical procedure that corrects limb deformities. In the past, people who had a shortened limb due to an infection, disease, or fracture that didn’t heal properly had no choice but to have the limb amputated or live with a disability. 

Dr. Gavriil Ilizarov developed a revolutionary limb-lengthening procedure that involves separating the bone and using a rigid frame to pull the pieces apart in a slow, controlled manner. Because bone heals itself when it breaks, the distraction frame allows new bone to form in the gap. This results in longer bones.

What is limb lengthening used for?

The team at Wolfson Orthopedics uses limb lengthening to treat a variety of conditions that cause limb deformity, including:

  • Osteomyelitis
  • Congenital abnormalities
  • Traumatic injuries
  • Fractures that don’t heal properly
  • Bone cancer and tumors

If you’ve had a section of bone removed to treat an infection or cancer, limb lengthening allows your bone to return to a normal length. 

What is osteomyelitis?

Osteomyelitis, or bone infection, is a common reason people get limb-lengthening procedures. The infection may begin in the bone, or it can travel through your bloodstream or spread from nearby tissue. A severe fracture or deep puncture wound may increase your risk of osteomyelitis. 

Though once considered an incurable disease, osteomyelitis is treatable. Surgery to remove the infected portion of bone is the most common treatment for osteomyelitis. After the diseased bone is removed, limb lengthening can restore your bone to its proper length. 

What should I expect from a limb-lengthening procedure?

The team at Wolfson Orthopedics performs limb lengthening in stages. First, you need lengthening surgery. This procedure involves creating a surgical cut in the bone (osteotomy) to separate it. 

Then, your Wolfson Orthopedics provider attaches an external device (fixator) around your limb. The fixator gently pulls the pieces of bone apart at a rate set by your surgeon. Lengthening typically occurs at the rate of one millimeter per day but may be slower or faster based on your needs. 

When your limb reaches the appropriate length, your Wolfson Orthopedics provider stops making adjustments to it. You continue to wear the fixator until your bone heals and hardens. Physical therapy occurs throughout the entire process, beginning the same day as your surgery.  

For more information about limb lengthening, call Wolfson Orthopedics or book an appointment online today.