Getting shorter with age: It’s not just the spine (why your pants get longer)

Posted on February 26, 2014

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From an upcoming, much longer post, detailing my second visit to The Washington University in St. Louis. Where I took a course by Shirley Sahrmann and the physical therapy department. You can read about my first visit here

I’ve gone over degenerative changes in the spine at lengthLong story short: As we age, the fluid in the discs tends to lessen. So, over time we get a bit shorter. Less fluid in discs = less height of discs = less height of person.

Shirley had a funny anecdote about how for a long time her patients would tell her, “I feel like I’m getting shorter.” No problem, she knew why that was occurring (the spine). Sometimes they’d also go, “My pants don’t fit me now. They’re too long.” She chalked that up to them being a little senile. Pants getting too long? That doesn’t make sense.

Turns out, it does make sense.

At the top of the hip, the bones will endorse one of three angles. Normal, coxa vara, or coxa valga. You know I like my fancy terms; let’s reword this as, “Normal, angled lower than normal, or angled higher than normal.”

Normal Coxa Vara Coxa Valga

Shirley stated it’s been found our hips take more of a coxa vara, “lower than normal angle,” as we age. After you’ve been around 6-8 decades, gravity tends to win.

Say we start out like so:

Hip Layout No PantsThat starting incline can decrease with time, bringing the waistline along with it:

Normal to Coxa Vara with Pants

Looking at the bottom, you can see how the pants lay over more and more of the foot. While the length between the person’s feet and waistline has changed, the length of the pants hasn’t. Denim doesn’t shorten with time. Alas, “My pants are too long.”

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Posted in: Miscellaneous