Why Do We Get Shorter With Age?

When you were a kid, your father seemed to stand as tall as a redwood tree. When you hit high school, you were thrilled that finally you and dad saw eye to eye. Maybe not on cars, school, or dating but, still, at least you could stand at eye level. As you grew older, your height pretty much leveled out. But not dad’s. Was he getting shorter? You certainly weren’t getting any taller! The answer is, yes, dad was getting shorter. But why? Why do we get shorter with age?

It’s in Our Bones

Height is determined by the length of our bones. You can almost guarantee that a professional basketball player will have longer legs than will a jockey. Our legs, arms, skull, and some other bones stay pretty much the same once we reach adulthood.

However, the spine is a little different. Unlike the long bones in our legs, our spines have vertebrae that are stacked on top of each other. Between each vertebra are cartilage – firm, smooth tissue that permits friction-free movement – as well as muscles and fibers that provide padding and support for the vertebrae and keep us strait and erect.

Imagine a new pair of sneakers. Over time and with lots of use, the soft cushioning begins to wear down, leaving your foot unprotected and vulnerable. That old sole might now be half the height from when it was new. The same is true of your spine: over time and with lots of wear, the padding between your vertebrae starts to deteriorate and the vertebrae themselves will start to compress. And when things compress, they get smaller. That’s when you lose height.

Osteoporosis occurs when the density of bone decreases, leaving it fragile and porous. In fact, the bone becomes so porous that it actually becomes compressible, similar to a sponge. As the bone continues to lose density, it can deteriorate or even fracture. With regard to your height, as your vertebrae start to decompress and lose their cushioning, they start to stack with no protection. With each lost or compromised layer, you lose a little height with every year that passes.

Risk Factors & What You Can Do

While anyone can get osteoporosis, your risk increases if you are Asian or Caucasian and female.  Other factors include if you are small-boned (have a slight frame), have an unhealthy diet, or smoke.

Exercise also plays a strong role in determining bone health, with the preference being weight-bearing or impact exercises (e.g., hiking or jogging). Medical risk factors include if you have rheumatoid arthritis, have a family history of osteoporosis. Menopause also causes bone density to decrease.

Even the healthiest among us will start to shrink just a little with time. That’s because years of wear and tear on our bodies make it nearly inevitable that you may lose a centimeter or two over a lifespan. Conditions like Dowager’s hump – which is caused by excessive compression of the spine – can be prevented and even reversed or sustained in the very early stages by minding one’s posture and seeking physical therapy.

Both traditional and new medical treatments (as an example, stem cell therapies) can help manage and even reverse the effects of osteoporosis. Regular bone density scans can determine if your bones are at risk of or already starting to deteriorate.

Getting shorter with age is no tall tale. If you believe that you or a loved one might have – or are at risk of developing – osteoporosis, it might be time to visit your health care professional.

If you live in or near Plano, Texas, plan to visit the caring professionals at Tarpon Orthopedics who are experts in sports medicine, spine, and pain management, as well as joint replacement. Call (972) 596-1059 for a consultation today in our locations in West Plano, North Plano, or Addison, Texas.

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