It’s no secret that China’s economy is growing at a rapid pace.

But it may surprise you to learn that some Chinese citizens are growing, too…taller, that is, thanks to the popularity of leg-lengthening surgery. That’s right: we’re talking about a type of surgery that can make you at least two to three inches taller.

The details are pretty gruesome. First, the doctor breaks the tibia and fibula–the bones of the lower leg. Then, a device comprised of two metal rings connected by extendable rods–the fixator–is screwed into both ends of the broken bone through the skin. About a week later, the stretching begins. The surgeon lengthens the fixator in small, two millimeter increments. This slowly pulls the broken bones apart, allowing new bone to grow and fill in the gap.

If all goes well, the three month bone-lengthening period is followed by another three to six months of bone strengthening. During this phase the patient is confined to a wheelchair and must undergo physical therapy that’s typically described on leg lengthening websites as “extremely painful.” But, barring complications such as infection where the fixator is attached to the bones and nerve injury, after about a year you can be back up and walking around on newly lengthened legs.

The surgery was invented in Russia in the early 1950s to help dwarves and other abnormally short people who wanted to attain a more normal height. Recently, though, in places like China, leg lengthening surgery has become trendy for people convinced that being taller leads to better jobs and more money.

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