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A woman I know has been losing height at a rate of few cm a year following a severe spinal injury. How is this possible? What kind of injury could cause such progressive loss of height? Could this be a genetic defect? Are there any disorders that cause this type of shrinking?

In case it could be relevant, her brothers are very tall.

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i asked this question as well on fitness.stackexchange.com and on skeptics.stackexchange.com, they think here is a better place, so they downvoted my question, i hope you don't downvote me too, I just want to know what's wrong with this woman before she dies, that's all. I searched all around the web for disorders, couldn't find any! i just want an explanation –  Fischer May 26 '13 at 21:42
    
please see healthboards.com/boards/bone-disorders/… –  Fischer May 26 '13 at 22:26
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I dont have a definite answer for this but this is what I speculate: spinal injury can cause paralysis which leads to atrophy (wasting away) of skeletal muscles. This may be the cause of the observed reduction in height. –  WYSIWYG May 27 '13 at 5:36
    
atrophy happens because of prolonged disuse –  WYSIWYG May 27 '13 at 7:00
    
Her height is that of a small bottle of cola? You expect us to believe you know a human being who is ~20cm tall? –  terdon May 27 '13 at 14:11
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1 Answer 1

up vote 5 down vote accepted

As @WYSIWYG pointed, muscular atrophy is the main cause for height decrease.

A spine injury leads to neural impairment and paresis / paralysis. This affects directly muscular trophism. It also limits physical activity, this being another favoring factor for muscular atrophy and overweight issues [1]. Association of bone degenerative processes (osteoporosis, osteopathy, osteolysis) is also a factor and it is dangerous because it promotes spinal cord injuries if vertebral height reduction amount is notable [2].

Focusing on muscular atrophy, here is how it can decrease height: by increasing vertebral column curvatures mostly on the upper region with articulating vertebrae. The vertebral column tends to gain a spring-like, spiral shape, associating accentuated cervical lordosis, accentuated thoracic kyphosis and thoracic scoliosis.

enter image description here
Image source: Scoliosis Treatment Alternatives. Chiropractic for Scoliosis Treatment Review (2014). Accessed 21.07.2014

While reading the comments to the question I found something interesting:

we know that the brain tells the body to grow, would a shock or something make the brain tell your body to shrink instead of growing?

Yes, the brain (hypotalamus) initiates a neuroendocrine response that leads to growth hormone secretion. The secretion is about 700 micrograms/day in a young adolescent, while in a healthy adult it is about 400 micrograms/day [3]. The deficiency in an adult person leads to a tendency of fat mass increase and a relative decrease in muscle mass and, in many instances, decreased energy and quality of life [4]. The brain can't "tell your body to shrink", but the lack of "communication" between the brain and organs leads to less to absolutely no use of that organ, thus inducing atrophy. The lack of both external and internal stimuli leads to atrophy (in general) [5].


References:

  1. Gupta N, White KT, Sandford PR. Body mass index in spinal cord injury -- a retrospective study. Spinal Cord. 2006 Feb;44(2):92-4. doi: 10.1038/sj.sc.3101790. PubMed PMID: 16030513.
  2. Ji L, Dang XQ, Lan BS, Wang KZ, Huang YJ, Wen B, Duan HH, Ren F. Study on the safe range of shortening of the spinal cord in canine models. Spinal Cord. 2013 Feb;51(2):134-8. doi: 10.1038/sc.2012.99. PubMed PMID: 22945745.
  3. Wikipedia contributors, "Growth hormone," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Growth_hormone&oldid=616959802 (accessed July 21, 2014).
  4. Molitch ME, Clemmons DR, Malozowski S, Merriam GR, Shalet SM, Vance ML, Stephens PA. Evaluation and treatment of adult growth hormone deficiency: an Endocrine Society Clinical Practice Guideline. J. Clin. Endocrinol. Metab. 2006 May;91(5):1621-34. doi: 10.1210/jc.2005-2227. PubMed PMID: 16636129.
  5. Wikipedia contributors, "Atrophy," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Atrophy&oldid=611770442 (accessed July 21, 2014).
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As they say in Texas don't slump or your get your grandmother's hump. –  caseyr547 2 days ago
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This answer is just wow!! –  Devashish Das 2 days ago
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great answer! wow is accurate description :) –  Fischer 2 days ago
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