A patient commented in the office not long ago that she had noticed she was two inches shorter than when she was in high school. Many readers may have noticed they are shorter too.
If you are over the age of 30, you may already be shrinking without realizing it.
Most of us will become shorter during our adult lives. For some of us the change will be minimal while for others it will be quite noticeable.
The shrinkage is almost certainly resulting from changes in your spine. Think about it. The bones in your legs are not getting any shorter.
However, the spinal discs that separate each bone in your spine may be deteriorating enough to lose some of their height and this will make you shorter.
For some people the change will never be noticed. However, for a large portion of the population the change can be substantial.
It is not unusual for an adult to lose an inch in height by the age of 50. That means several of your vertebral discs have been damaged to the point that they are becoming thinner.
Some people tend to think that the vertebral discs thin naturally as we age. However, in most cases the significant change that is seen on X-rays or other imaging is not the result of normal aging.
One thing I illustrate when reviewing the imaging of a person with advanced degenerative damage affecting the spinal discs is that while some areas are affected by the damage and thinning discs, other areas of the spine show no signs of damage at all. Yet, all of the bones and discs are exactly the same age.
However, these damaged discs tend to become worse over time, meaning that it may appear that aging is the cause. The real reason is often that the discs have become injured significantly at some point earlier in time and the damage is now resulting in decay of the tissues and thinning of the disc. Often the change will not be evident until perhaps as many as 10 years have passed.
There is also a misconception that nothing can be done to slow down the process.
Research has shown that the progressive decay and damage to the spinal discs may be closely related to the decline in spinal joint function that occurs after an injury process.
As I review MRI images of my patients’ spines, I will often see distinct damage to one or more spinal discs accompanied by increased bony deterioration, thinning of the disc, and a decrease of the internal fluid of the disc. Since the discs are thinner, the patient will be shorter than they were earlier in life.
It is now possible to restore some of the lost height that has occurred as a result of damaged discs. We now can provide treatment to help reduce the thinning that occurs to the discs.
Often patients that are treated with our computer-aided, non-surgical spinal disc decompression regain some of their lost height. Although the patients are usually seeking care due to ongoing pain and inability to enjoy normal activities, this is a nice side effect that can occur.
Pain can be caused by a number of spinal conditions including damaged spinal discs. One component that is almost always present in chronic back pain is a loss of the normal movement or function of the affected spinal joints. I have seen over the past three decades of caring for thousands of patients with back pain that restoring normal function is one of the most important steps to end back pain.
As we begin to see improved function of the spinal joints, it is not uncommon to notice that the patient is standing a little taller. That is due to correction of another reason for people becoming shorter. As the spinal joints become stiffer and less moveable and the spinal muscles become weaker, it is natural that a person will be more stooped. This condition is often correctable with the right treatment.
Getting shorter may sometimes be caused by uncorrectable conditions such as compression fractures of the spinal bones or severe disc degeneration that is irreversible. Although the pain from these conditions may be successfully treated, it may not be possible to regain any significant amount of height.
Dr. Mark Kestner is a licensed chiropractic physician in Murfreesboro. His office is at 1435 NW Broad St. Contact him at mkestner@DrKestner.com