I work with clients 40+ and I often hear them say with a chuckle; “Yep, I’m shrinking and my feet are getting bigger.” Honestly, this is no laughing matter. If you are shrinking more than 1/2 an inch a year OR you have shrunk more than 1.6 inches in your lifetime then you likely have had a fracture in your spine (the vertebral column) due to soft bones, or what we call osteopenia and osteoporosis. Please don’t panic though. The fracture healed but in a manner that has left you shorter. Think of soft bones/osteoporosis like butter and if you slouch or work in front of a computer most of your day (which is the majority of us) then that can compress the vertebrae/bone and cause a “silent compression fracture”. A “silent fracture” means you do not feel it happen! You only notice the loss of height or shrinking over time.
Can we help people gain height? Absolutely, but not by making the bones grow. We have seen patients gain an inch in height simply by stretching! Focusing on stretching muscles that control our posture can help relieve some of the pressure on our spine. It’s also important to address the idea that shrinking comes with age, it’s a myth! There is also a misconception that you have to live with rounded upper back posture. As mentioned, stretching will help correct excessive rounded upper back posture and even prevent it from getting worse. While posture is important for everyone, not everyone has to worry about osteopenia/osteoporosis and it’s more common amongst women. The combination of both poor posture and osteoporosis can become problematic if neither condition is addressed. The good news is that poor posture can easily be addressed with some easy exercises. The first one, when you’re sitting at a desk or watching TV try keeping your ears over your shoulders. This may be difficult when you first try so I recommend trying it for a few minutes at a time when you first start. The second one is all about squeezing your shoulder blades together and I recommend holding the squeeze for a few seconds with each repetition. Lastly, taking brisk walks will help both your bones and posture!
Back to the comment about feet getting bigger as we age. That is actually a normal process due to our joints and ligaments wearing out and for some of us our arches seem to flatten out faster. As a result, our feet appear to “grow” but it’s all due to increased laxity in the joints and ligaments of our foot that increases the length and width. This flattening of the foot in the length and width seems to make the feet “grow” or at least cause us to go up in shoe size! Plus, the flattening of our arch and feet actually can put stress on our knees and backs. We don’t need more stress there, as those joints often get degenerative changes as it is! The best way to protect our feet and avoid this would be to wear the right inserts for your foot type. Did you know there are over 15 different foot types? Therefore, finding the right insert needs some expertise. What else can you do about shrinking and soft bones? You should definitely discuss getting a bone scan if you have lost 1/2 an inch of height in a year or 1.6 inches in your lifetime.
Ideally, you should also be on Calcium and Vitamin D supplements if you have shrunk due to osteoporosis. This is important because as we get over the age of 21, our digestive system is only capable of absorbing 20% of the calcium needed from food? Eating foods rich in calcium is not enough. Calcium is required by our heart and muscles to function properly, so if there’s not enough available in the blood stream, our bodies will steal it from our bones and thus our bones get soft (osteopenia and osteoporosis). We also know that tablets are not easily digested and have been found in the intestine in whole form. Using an isotonic supplement (powder that mixes with water) has a 95% absorption rate.
Osteoporosis affects 60% of Americans over the age of 55. It’s a preventable disease. I can’t tell you how many people have their lives completely altered by soft bones. In fact, my grandmother was a very active individual playing senior tennis and qualifying for nationals in her 50’s. However, her advanced osteoporosis changed her lifestyle. If only she had received the right information soon enough to make the right decisions for her health.