Does Weightlifting Make You Shorter?

July 16, 2013 in Questions by Fish

Does weightlifting stunt growth? Or do weights make a person shorter than he was before? This is one of the most discussed topics in the fitness community, and fortunately, it is just another popular myth.

Does weightlifting stunt your bone growth?

I mean, it is not hard to imagine why many people think that weightlifting damages height growth. After all, you are adding weight to something that is supposed to grow skywards. However, just because earth seems flat doesn’t make it so. Let me explain.

Your bones are made to bear weight. In fact, modest weight-bearing activity is essential to bone health. A bone without any stress over time can lead to osteoporosis and bone weakness. But does weightlifting have any effect on height growth? The answer is a cautious no, unless excessive weight or injury causes a compression fracture or a Salter-Harris fracture. Many bones in your body grow by the means of growth plates, or epiphyseal plates. In the spine, the growth plates are located at the two ends of a vertebral body. In your arms, legs, and digits, they are located towards the ends of the bones. These plates basically laid down the foundation for the bones to grow longer and will continue to grow the bones until they are either fused naturally or by a fracture that goes through the growth plate. Therefore, as long as you do not damage these plates while lifting, you should not have to worry about not being able to grow tall. Of course, this assumes your growth plates have not yet fused naturally.

Fractures that involve the growth plates are called Salter-Harris fractures. They are typically caused by sports injuries, motor vehicle accidents, or improper use of weight equipment. So, it pays to use proper techniques and appropriate weight when you are weightlifting. It’s not worth getting a fracture by trying to impress people in the gym!

Why do fractures through growth plates so bad? It is because your body tries to heal itself. Bones are extremely good at healing itself, and it will make all attempts to seal any interruption. When a fracture happens, many cellular things are happening at the same time for the bone to grow back. The most critical component of this healing process, however, is blood. When a fracture takes place, the fractured bone hemorrhages, or bleeds, into the surrounding area.  It is this blood that provides both the signal and the nutrients for fractured bones to calcify and seal the break point. In other words, blood promotes calcification of bones.

In the case of Salter-Harris fracture, the blood gets into the epiphyseal plate, where it is typically occupied by avascular cartilage (that is, without any blood supply). Cartilage does not need blood to grow. In fact, blood signals the cartilage to transform into something else: you guessed it, calcified bone. While this calcification process is good for regular bone, it essentially destroys the growth plate by replacing the cartilage with hardened bone. After the healing is complete, there will be no growth plate to elongate the bone. Untreated Salter-Harris fracture can be especially devastating in young children as they can end up having uneven limbs or digits as adults. This is why Salter-Harris fractures are usually treated by an orthopedic surgeon, who may surgically salvage the growth plates.

Does weightlifting compress your spine?

Typically no, unless you have a compression fracture, which shortens your spine. Compression fractures are exactly what they sound. They are fractures caused by bones collapsing on themselves. Compression fractures of the spine tend to occur in older people, in people with degenerative bone diseases, or in trauma patients. If you are healthy and exercise regularly and properly, weightlifting should not give you compression fractures and diminish your existing height. Compression fractures are usually excruciatingly painful because the crushed bones can trap nerve roots coming out of the spinal column. They can cause serious issues such as paralysis in some cases.

Lift with good techniques and never overestimate your ability

Weightlifting generally does not limit your height growth or make you shorter than before. However, it is crucial that you use care to avoid serious fracture injuries while lifting. Big muscles are useless without healthy bones to support them.

What if you think you have a fracture?

Salter-Harris and compression fractures can be diagnosed with a series of plain-film X-rays. If you suspect your have a fracture of any kind, please visit your local emergency room. The physicians there will take the steps to ensure proper treatment of your injuries.

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