If you are older and have a nagging feeling you’ve lost some height, it’s not necessarily in your head. It could be in your spine. Changes in bones, joints, and muscles play a role in the loss of height with age. Typically, people lose about half an inch of height every decade past the age of 40, which could amount to a total of 1-3 inches of height loss later in life. The trusted Los Angeles spine surgeons at The Spine Institute explain what you need to know about age-related height loss and what you may be able to do to prevent it.
Osteoporosis and Weakened Bones
Osteoporosis, a disease that primarily affects joints and weakens bones, can contribute to a loss of height as various bones of the spine weaken. Since women have thinner and smaller bones than men, they are more likely to experience issues with osteoporosis. A natural decrease in estrogen after menopause can also contribute to an increased risk of osteoporosis in women. This may explain why one study found that women lose more spinal height than men between the ages of 30 and 70.
Undetected Spinal Fractures
Two-thirds of all spinal fractures are painless, which is why they often go undetected. Compression fractures within vertebrae or joints of the spine (facet joints) can progressively contribute to a loss of height as the backbone shrinks and more fractures develop. Depending on where fractures develop, the natural curvature of the spine could increase as the spine weakens and affects height.
Loss of Spinal Disc Fluid
Spinal discs are naturally spongy so they can help the spine absorb the impact of daily movements. During the early years of life, discs of the spine have a high percentage of fluid. Gradually, fluid levels in discs decrease. The result is a spine that naturally shrinks because the supporting discs aren’t providing as much support and height between vertebrae. This process can be hastened if you have ongoing issues with disc herniation.
Preventing Spine-Related Height Loss
Age-related changes to the spine affect everyone to some extent, so a loss of spine height isn’t preventable or reversible. Even so, there are steps that can be taken to keep your spine as healthy as possible to minimize height loss. For instance, making an effort to eat more foods with calcium and vitamin D, which helps with the absorption of calcium, can keep bones and joints stronger and minimize issues with osteoporosis and bone loss. Additional ways to keep your spine and its supporting parts in good shape as you get older include:
- Getting regular exercise
- Being mindful of posture
- Drinking plenty of water
It also helps to be proactive about any spine-related issues you notice as you get older. For instance, if you start experiencing pain with certain movements, it could be a sign of issues related to degenerative disc disease (DDD), another type of age-related change that may affect spinal bones and joints. The good news is that discomfort from DDD tends to naturally ease over time. Also, lifestyle changes such as maintaining a healthy weight and controlling blood sugar may prevent osteoporosis.
Certain issues with the spine may require a procedure such as decompression or XLIF surgery. Los Angeles patients can contact The Spine Institute to speak with one of our friendly representatives and schedule an appointment. Call 310-828-7757 today.