How are body pains linked to your height?

Height is one of the commonly espoused factors considered to be responsible for lower back pain. If you are tall and have frequent back pain, there is a chance that both of these are interlinked.

Being tall often means the person is likely to have a bad back as well.  And this can be explained with a simple concept given below.

The same number of bones

Whether your height is 5 feet or 6 feet, the number of moveable segments including bones and joints in your spine will remain the same. A human body has twenty-four moveable bones in the back.

So, the movements and the range of motion that these bones and joints need to perform would be the same in both taller and shorter people when they follow a similar routine of physical activities.

This means each bone and joint of shorter people has to bear lesser bodyweight and is subjected to less average strain compared to that in a taller person. In taller people, the bones and joints would be subjected to more strain and have to bear more bodyweight while performing the same activities.

This explains why taller people are more likely to experience frequent backaches.

The general consensus is that taller people are nearly 1.5 times more likely to develop low back pain compared to shorter people.

There are some other factors that increase the risk of backaches in taller people. Let’s have a look at them.

The role of the size of vertebrae

It has been found that the vertebrae in taller people are larger in size because the same number of vertebrae have to cover a larger length of the spine in them. Taller people also have longer limbs. And longer limbs mean the levers would also be longer.

Also, though the vertebrae are longer in terms of height, it does not always come with a proportional increase in their width. This can make it harder for the core muscles in the abdomen and thighs to resist the effect of longer levers.

So, the intensity of the torque created by the longer limbs might be a reason why taller people experience more back pain than shorter people.

The increased torque can make it harder for their torso to stay still or maintain balance when moving their limbs thus leading to smaller movements. These smaller movements can irritate them, or even cause damage to the structures in the spine resulting in pain and discomfort.

Unfavorable ergonomics

In addition to these anatomical causes, there are situations where ergonomics could be unfavorable for taller people thus contributing to their risk of frequent backaches.

For example, you must have noticed that taller people often have difficulties in adapting their posture or making movements within smaller spaces such as in planes and cars.

They also find it a bit difficult to work around the kitchen platforms and sinks or move trolleys in supermarkets as their height makes it difficult for them to maneuver around smaller places.  

They have to stoop more while cooking or washing dishes and bend more for holding and pushing trolleys. This can exert more strain on the muscles of the back making them prone to develop backaches. [18]

The increased chances of back pain in taller people could also be explained with the help of similar symptoms children complain of during the period of growth and development. Research studies have shown that not just adults, but even children are likely to complain of back pain during growth spurts.

Growth-related dysbalance

Rapid growth-related dysbalance in the muscles coupled with poor or insufficient physical health could be responsible for back pain in growing children. [19]

The risk of sciatic

The differences in the heights of the vertebra in taller and shorter people may also influence their risk of common causes of back pain including sciatica. Sciatica is a condition that occurs due to the compression of the sciatic nerve that arises from the spinal cord in the back.

The compression of the sciatic nerve at a place it leaves the spine through the space between the intervertebral discs can lead to severe pain and tingling and numbness in the legs. The pain radiates along the course of the nerve as it travels down the leg.

If not managed properly, sciatica may become worse causing complete or partial paralysis in the legs.

The need for surgery in sciatica patients

Some patients with sciatica may require surgery to decompress the nerve and restore its functions.

One study has assessed the influence of height on the need for surgery in patients with sciatica. It has shown that taller people might experience more severe symptoms of sciatica thus necessitating surgery.

A mechanism involved in the faster development of sciatica in taller people has been found to be linked to the increased height of the lumbar disc (intervertebral disc between 2 lumbar vertebrae).

Higher instability in the joints in taller people

It is believed that taller people have a higher risk of instability in the joints. So, the alterations in the joints tend to occur faster in taller patients who have had a herniated lumbar disc. Taller people may also be exposed to a more physical strain that leads to injuries and faster wear and in these joints.

All these factors can contribute to the damage to the intervertebral discs due to which the compression of the sciatic nerve can increase substantially. This can increase the need for surgery in taller people with sciatica. [20]

There have been efforts to assess the quantum of the increase in the risk of back pain in taller people. One study has suggested that women without low back pain and a height of more than or equal to 170 cm could be predisposed to develop chronic low back pain around 11 years later.

The findings of this study reflect the mechanical issues that can create instability and more strain on the muscles and joints. [21]