Spinal Compression -- 7 Ways to
Prevent Losing Height as You Age
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Last updated October 5, 2016 (originally published August 23, 2015)
By Susan Callahan, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist

[Health and fitness articles are reviewed by our team of
Doctors, Registered Nurses, Certified trainers and other
members of our Editorial Board.]

Ever notice how some people as they get older seem to grow
longer arms and legs?  Some older men and women seem to
have arms that reach to their knees.  What’s going on here?

Well, the answer to the mystery is that their arms didn’t
grow longer --- their backs grew shorter.  As their backs
shorten, their arms and legs seem to lengthen, distorting the
overall balance of the body.

Men on average will lose one inch in height due to spinal
compression between the ages of 30 and 70. Women on
average will lose 2 inches. Some of us will lose more.
According to  2012 study from the Institute for Aging
Research in Framingham, Massachusetts, 11% of us will lose
more than 2 inches in height.

After age 40, if you do nothing, you can expect to lose a little
less than half an inch for each decade of your life, Johns
Hopkins University warns, a loss of height which accelerates
after you reach age 70.

Symptoms of Spinal Compression

In addition to getting shorter, spinal compression can cause
pain, as the bones of your spine press against the nerves of
your back, nerves that connect to other areas of your body
such as your legs, arms, hand, and feet. Not surprisingly,
symptoms of spinal compression include the following”

  • Pain and stiffness in the neck, back, or lower back

  • Burning pain that spreads to the arms, buttocks, or
    down into the legs (sciatica)

  • Numbness, cramping, or weakness in the arms, hands,
    or legs

  • Loss of sensation in your feet

  • Difficulty with hand coordination

  • "Foot drop," weakness in your foot that causes a limp

  • Loss of sexual ability

What Causes Our Spines to Compress, Making Us Lose
Height as We Age?

Many forces, some subtle and gradual, others acute and fast,
work to make us shorter as we  age.

First, let’s look at the acute forces.  Osteoporosis, the loss of
bone mineral density, is the leading cause of acute height
loss in both women and men. Osteoporosis affects 10% of
all women over the age of 60, 20% of all women over the
age of 70, 40% of all women over the age of 80, and 67%
of all women over the age of 90. You get the picture. The
older you get, the more likely you will suffer from

As for the gradual forces which conspire to make you
shorter, the most powerful is one you don’t think of often
--- gravity.  

To understand how gravity might affect your height, imagine
that you are a market merchant who sells apples for your
living.  You carry the apples in a basket on your head to the

In the mornings, when you start your day, you load the
apples into the basket, then you huff and puff and lift the
heavy basket up to your head.  Your twin brother has a
different line of work. He sells pillows, and these he also
piles into a large basket and walks them to the market on his

After 30 years, your mother measures your height and
discovers that you are a full 3 inches shorter than your
brother.  Over time, the heavy basket of apples weighed
down your brother’s spine, and collapsed each vertebrae a
little bit, making him shorter and shorter.  Gravity makes
heavy objects feel “heavy”.  

Now, you don’t need to carry around a basket of apples to
feel heavier. If you just carry around an extra 30 pounds on
your waistline and hips and arms and legs, it has the same
effect ---over time the extra weight compresses your spine
and makes you shorter.

The Mystery of Why Astronauts Grow Taller in Space

What’s the proof that gravity makes us shorter? Astronauts
grow taller in space. Astronauts who experience
weightlessness once they are outside of Earth’s gravity,
grow about 3% in height, according to NASA. An astronaut
who leaves Earth 6 feet tall returns home 6 feet 2 inches tall.

NASA has even commissioned a new study, to be led by
Astronaut Scott Dulchavsky to study the micro-changes to
astronauts spines while they are in space that makes them
grow taller.  

Fighting the Forces That Hammer Us Down

Pounded down by gravity, our spines get shorter and
shorter. Our spines are the nail and gravity and our lifestyle
are the hammers. Without help, our spines don’t have a
chance. As a result, sooner or later, the spines start crying
out in pain. And they shrink.

Here are some tips to help you fight back:

Prevent Osteoporosis with Weight Training

Bone density is directly correlated with the amount of work
your bones have to do. One of  the best ways to increase
bone density is to make your bones support weight.  
Walking around makes your bone support your body
weight.  Carrying bags make your bones support you plus
the bags.  

Why do we suffer from osteoporosis as we age?

Scientists believe that many factors are at work. Here,
according to a 2104 study from a consortium of doctors led
by Dr. of the Helen Hayes Hospital of Haverstraw, NY, is the
guidance doctors themselves should give patients at risk for

•get enough weight training /weight bearing exercise

get enough calcium. 1200 mg per day for women over age
50  and 1000 mg per day for men over age 50. Think milk,
sardines, kale, eggs and a bit of cheese for your calcium. You
will get some of your calcium if you take a multivitamin but
many of them, even Centrum Silver, which is formulated
specifically for older people, only supplies you with 30% of
your daily calcium needs.

You’ll need to make the rest up with a can of sardines (382
mg of calcium in a standard tin) and a glass of milk (300 mg
each for each 8 ounce cup of milk). One tip from the National
Osteoporosis Foundation is to add a spoonful of powdered
milk to various foods (such a soups, teas, and creams and
sauces). Each spoonful contains 50mg of calcium.

get enough Vitamin D. You need 800 to 1000 international
units per day. You can get enough Vitamin D from the sun by
just exposing your arms legs for 20 minutes a day. This will
give you enough if you are fair-skinned, If you are dark-
skinned, you will need 30 minutes to get enough Vitamin D.
It will not be possible for you to get enough Vitamin D from
the sun during the fall and winter if you live in the US in the
states above Maryland, Oklahoma or California or if you live
in Europe in the countries or regions of countries above Italy.

Stop smoking

Stop excessive drinking

Finally, if you’re wondering whether it’s okay to drink
carbonated drinks, the answer is “yes”. Contrary to popular
opinion, carbonated sodas have not been proven to de-
mineralize your bones. No study has proven that they block
calcium absorption, according to Jennifer Nelson, a
registered dietitian with the Mayo Clinic.

Osteoporosis and osteopenia are complicated topics. Here
are all the natural remedies that have been proven to work
osteoporosis and osteopenia.

Stretch Your Back

Your spine is not a solid. Instead, it is a series of bone blocks
(vertebrae) spaced along a curve, with discs of fluid and
cartilage in between. The fluid discs and cartilage act as
shock absorbers.

Build Up the Muscles of Your Back

Try as they might, your discs and cartilage are not really up
to the job of handling the daily pounding we give our backs.
To handle that pounding, you also need muscles, strong
muscles.  The muscles in our backs that could help to lessen
the load on our spinal column are almost never exercised in
any meaningful way. Thus, over time, those supporting
muscles get weaker, and as our bodies get heavier, our spine
gets more and more pounded down.

One of the best ways to strengthen your back muscles is to
swim but most of us either do not have access to a pool or
don’t swim regularly even if we do. The solution is to do
what I call a “dry swim”. Lie on your stomach, lift both your
ankles a bit off the floor and stroke away, as though you are

Stretch Out and Lengthen Your Spine Every Day

You’ll regret not stretching out your back every day. The
compression that your spine experiences every day is not

Even though you are a couple of centimeters shorter at night
than you are in the morning, you typically regain those
centimeters as you sleep.

You can also regain your “morning height” and even
increase it by stretching.  One of the best back stretches is to
kneel down on the floor, then sit back over your knees and
stretch out your arms over your head.

You have to do this stretch very, very gradually. Most of us
by the age of 40 have not gotten down on our knees like this
in a while. You may also find it more comfortable to kneel on
a pillow or a thick towel.

Another good stretch is to stand up against a wall with your
head touching the wall and raise your arms over your head.

Yet another good back stretch is to grab a ballet bar with
both hands, then "sit" back into a soft squatting position
until you feel the stretch.

Stop Sitting. Sitting is one of the major causes of spinal
compression.  Most of us sit more than we stand or move.
Try a little game to help yourself to remember to stop
sitting.  Set your smart phone on a one hour timer. Or use a
clock. Every hour, on the hour, get up and walk around for
10 minutes or just stand for 10 minutes. By the end of the
day, you will have accumulated 2 extra hours of non-sitting
time.  You’ll find that your back feels better and you may
even feel more alert.

Osteoporosis -Top 10 Natural Remedies

Osteopenia -Top 10 Natural Remedies

7 Worst Foods and Drinks for Your Bones

Arthritis -Causes and Cures

Soft Bones? - Know the Symptoms

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Astronauts grow taller in space,
because they do not suffer
spinal compression from gravity.