Who wants to shrink? But unfortunately, it’s a normal part of aging if you live long enough. Here are a few things to know about shrinkage and what you may be able to do to help it.
Of course, estimates vary, but on average we lose between a quarter to a half an inch every decade after age 40, and women generally lose more than men.
The main reason people lose height is that the discs between the vertebrae in the spine dehydrate and compress. Let’s look at the anatomy and function of a vertebral disc to better understand how this happens. An intervertebral disc’s job is to keep the vertebrae separated and act like a shock absorber. There are 24 discs that make up the human spine. Think of a jelly donut when you think of a disc. The outer ring of the disc is made of a strong material called the annulus fibrosis. This protects a jelly-like substance inside the disc called the nucleus pulposus. The disc is about 80 percent water and as a person ages, the disc dries out. So when a disc is dehydrated, or desiccated as it is called, it losses function and height. This is called degenerative disc disease. Other factors can contribute to overall height loss, including the loss of the proper curves of our spine and compression fractures due to reduced bone density, as well as weak muscles in the abdomen.
A majority of this is out of your control but even in later years, you may be able to slow this process by taking steps that will help your bones and muscles. Proper exercise is critical. A study published in Gerontology found that people who did moderate aerobic exercise throughout their lives shrank less than those who were sedentary all their lives or who stopped exercising after age 40. Of course, consuming supplements to promote strong and healthy bones are great places to start. One of the most helpful things you can do is to not smoke cigarettes; this will increase the amount of oxygen in your body which helps your body to heal. But there are other options out there.
Luckily, we have advances in new technology to aid in this old-age problem. Non-surgical spinal decompression has been shown to increase disc height. A study published in BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders showed that “non-surgical spinal decompression was associated with a reduction in pain and an increase in disc height. The correlation of these variables suggests that pain reduction may be mediated, at least in part, through a restoration of disc height.”
Nonsurgical spinal decompression is similar to traction, but unlike traction, decompression pulls and then releases pressure before pulling again. This change in force creates a negative pressure within the disc. This negative pressure helps promote movement of water, oxygen and nutrient-rich fluids into the disks so they can heal and rehydrate, thus restoring disc height. Another positive result is that your bulging or herniated disks may retract, taking pressure off nerves, thus relieving pain.
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Dr. Wayne M. Fichter Jr. is a chiropractor at Natural Spine Solutions. The business is located at 3913 Schreiber Way in Coeur d’Alene, 208-966-4425.