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Does a Herniated Disc Make You Shorter? The Truth

It’s common knowledge that we tend to shrink as we get older. The cause of that minor shrinkage is similar to what happens when we suffer from a herniated disc. And while getting older or having a herniated disc won’t drastically change your height, it can cause you to shrink.

A herniated disc can make you shorter, but not enough to be noticeable. When a disc herniates or bulges, it becomes compressed, which in turn causes your spine to compress a little bit. This can cause you to lose a little height, usually less than an eighth of an inch.

Read on to learn more about how your spinal discs and their health can affect your height.

The Anatomy of the Spine

To understand how herniated discs can contribute to height loss, it’s important to know how these discs work in the spine.

Your spine is made up of vertebrae, which are the bones of the spine. Between the vertebrae are fluid-filled, gel-like discs. These are called intervertebral discs, and they help absorb impacts, allow for smooth and painless movement, and also keep the bones of the spine from grinding against each other.

There are no veins leading to these discs. Instead, they get nutrients through osmosis. Healthy discs are tall, resilient, and help you stand at your full height. But what happens to unhealthy discs?

Disc Health and Height Are Correlated

These spinal discs make up approximately ¼ of the total length of your spine. So you can imagine what would happen if those discs suddenly disappeared. You’d lose a significant amount of your height. You’d also be in tremendous pain. Luckily, you’re not going to lose your discs suddenly.

However, you can suffer a herniated disc (or more than one). This can cause you to lose some height, but not enough to be noticeable, in most cases. The more disc herniations you have, the more height you’re liable to lose. And the more pain you could be in. 

Disc height varies by location in the spine and by person, so there’s no hard data we can give you. But if you do have a disc herniation, you may not even notice it, because not all of them cause pain. But if you have a herniated disc that is causing you pain, your height should be a secondary concern. Pain relief and addressing the issue (or issues) that caused the herniation should be your primary concern because a herniated disc is not likely to heal on its own.

How Much Height Do You Lose After Spinal Disc Herniation?

Most disc herniations that people experience will result in negligible height loss — usually less than an ⅛ of an inch, at most. However, the more disc herniations or bulges you have, the more height you’re likely to lose, at least temporarily.

The most severe loss of height has more to do with degenerative disc disease and conditions like osteoporosis, which can result in significant height loss due to changes in bone density and disc health, usually in elderly adults.

The fact is that taking good care of your spine can help prevent loss of height due to disc herniations. This means living a healthy lifestyle, taking care of your back, and seeing a chiropractor for herniated discs.

What To do About Disc Herniations

As we said before, many disc herniations are asymptomatic, meaning they don’t cause pain or discomfort. However, not everyone is so lucky. When a disc herniation or bulge presses on a nerve, it can cause pain ranging from mild to severe.

And while you have several options to help deal with this issue, some are better than others. In fact, most medical professionals will suggest that you try each and every science-based conservative option before opting for surgery. 

The best conservative options include:

  • Chiropractic Care
  • Non-Surgical Spinal Decompression
  • Physical Therapy
  • Exercise
  • Stretches

We offer all these options at Better Health Alaska, and often combine them for best results. 

On the other hand, you have surgeries like a discectomy. This is the process of removing the portion of the spinal disc that is pressing on a nerve and causing you pain. However, studies show that this type of surgery is associated with average losses of 25% of disc height. Not to mention you’ll often need more than one surgery, as re-herniation is common among patients. 

This is why it’s important to try non-invasive options like chiropractic care first. In fact, you can click this link to learn more about nine natural herniated disc treatments.

Does Spinal Fusion Make You Shorter?

While we’re on the subject of losing height, let’s touch on spinal fusion. This type of surgery is most common among children who have severe scoliosis. And while there’s some evidence that spinal fusion can result in very minor instances of height loss, it’s not common.

One study compared girls who had spinal fusion to those who were treated with a brace and found little overall height difference between the two groups after reaching maturity. Adults who undergo spinal fusion surgery may lose some height, but usually not enough to be noticeable. Some spinal surgeries can even result in minor height gains!

Spinal Health is Essential for More Than Just Your Height!

While a herniated disc can make you shorter, this shouldn’t be your main concern. Chances are, people around you won’t be able to notice. And if you take good care of your spine, you can help (to some extent) prevent drastic loss of height in your golden years. 

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