By David Blyweiss, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness
December 13, 2019
Did you ever see the 1957 classic The Incredible Shrinking Man? Well, it’s a fun film if you’re into science fiction.
It shows a man shrinking over time for some unknown reason. There’s a small grain of truth in this idea. Because most of us can expect to shrink a bit over time.
As the years go by, gravity tends to compress the discs in our spine resulting in back pain and a shorter stature.
In fact, many people aren’t even aware of their slow shrinking…
A French study measured 8,600 women over the age of 60. When asked, these women overestimated their current height by an average of 1-inch. Overall, these women had lost about 2-inches from their tallest recalled height.
Then, the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging found that women lost an average of 2 inches between the ages of 30 and 70 years. Men lost a bit more than 1 inch by age 70 and 2 inches by age 80.
As for me, I recently shocked a chiropractor with my test results.
He took an x-ray of my back and compared it to another that was taken 10 years earlier.
When he held the x-ray film up to the light, he was shocked to find improvement in my back during this last decade!
Over the last 50 years – ever since I was just 18 – I’ve only lost about a quarter inch of height. So for me, I’m not shrinking too much.
Now, gravity normally wins.
And when it comes to your back, compression due to gravity can result in bulging discs and shooting pain up and down your body.
But that doesn’t mean you need to have shrinking and possibly aching back for the rest of your life…
There are a number of things you can try to prevent shrinking and back pain as you age… and many of my patients are surprised to learn that surgery isn’t always the answer.
First off, usually a “bad back” is actually due to a “bad front.” Weak core muscles and excess weight have a way of pulling on your back in the wrong direction.
Getting rid of excess abdominal fat that sits around your organs and hangs over your belt will make a big difference in how your back feels. Those extra pounds of belly fat are making your body recalibrate – pulling on your back.
So, the first thing you can do is focus on exercise and a healthy diet to help drop a few pounds.
Next, I recommend mindful breathing to bring healing oxygen into your bloodstream and into the muscles of your back. This is when you inhale through your nose for a count of four, hold for seven, and then release through rounded pursed lips for a count of eight.
It helps decrease your stress cortisol, keeps your brain healthy, and helps deliver healing oxygen throughout your body. This oxygen-rich blood flows readily into your back muscles, healing damage to the tissues.
And if you’re a smoker… understand that this habit can lead to a lack of blood flow and the delivery of healing oxygen to other parts of your body in need of repair. So, kicking the habit is another great way to care for your back.
Surgery Isn’t Always the Answer…
Sometimes people experiencing back pain as they age assume they are going to need surgery.
People don’t understand that when you have a bulging or herniated disk, you’ll classically get a lancing hot sword of pain radiating down your butt cheek and maybe into your leg/toes.
Chronic nagging pain, on the other hand, can often be fixed without invasive surgery. As you strengthen your body – and lose weight – your back will shift back into the correct anatomical position. This will help you find relief from lower back pain.
Therapists who can help include osteopaths, chiropractors, physical therapists, massage therapists and acupuncturists.
But, if you can’t get in to see a therapist, you can make improvements by adding daily movement into your routine.
I tell patients to go outside and walk in one direction for twenty minutes. Then, turn around and walk back. Adding core muscle strengthening techniques and HIIT exercises is another great way to strengthen your body.
Now, to be fair, there are situations where surgery is needed – you’ve herniated your disk, the pain never lessens, your leg collapses, and/or you don’t have bowel or bladder control.
Yes, these are urgent situations where surgery is appropriate….and necessary. And lucky for us, modern medicine is the very best at helping people find relief in these cases.
But, for other chronic issues, like a pain from excess belly fat or weakened core muscles ¾ well, there are less invasive ways to fix the problems.
Try watching your diet to lose weight (intermittent fasting is the easiest for many people), strengthening your core muscles, and mindful breathing. If you are still experiencing issues, you might consider visiting one of the therapists I mentioned above.
All of them can help you find relief…
Personally, I visit some of those therapists mentioned above. My chiropractor helps rotate my hips and sacrum back to normal anatomic position when I’m in that “low back pain” from sitting too long or horsing around with my grandson. I actually feel my lumbar vertebrae move back in place.
Then, I get massaged when I can for maintaining range of motion, muscle spasms and general relaxation. On my own, I do my daily mindful breathing and I don’t smoke. Finally, I sit in a zero gravity chair from Relax-the-Back every evening which helps keep my vertebrae decompressed….I also hydrate which helps keep the discs between my vertebrae from drying out as much as they would. I’ve been doing all these things for a decade… it’s never too late to start.
Your body can improve and hopefully you can find relief without surgery.
Berkeley Wellness. “Why You Shrink As You Age.” https://www.berkeleywellness.com/self-care/preventive-care/article/why-you-shrink-you-age
Briot, Karine et al. “Accuracy of patient-reported height loss and risk factors for height loss among postmenopausal women.” CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association journal = journal de l’Association medicale canadienne vol. 182,6 (2010): 558-62. doi:10.1503/cmaj.090710