All efforts to improve your height may fail to make significant changes if you overlook a key factor: the status of your growth plates. These plates give the accurate answers to your questions about whether you can still grow tall anymore, and if yes, how much time is left before your height stops developing, or by how many inches of height you can gain naturally.
This article gives you an insight into these vital parts of the body, as well as what you should do to optimize growth plate development before you eventually reach adult height.
Growth plate in relation to height increase
When you look at the X-ray of a child’s normal long bone, such as a thigh bone radiograph, you may see some dark lines near the two ends of the bone.
These lines look different from the white area of solid bone on the X-ray film because they indicate a developing cartilage structure, which is softer and contains less mineral than the rest of the bone. This is what we call epiphyseal plates, or simply growth plates.
Bones grow in length when the cartilage of epiphyseal plates develops through cell division. Particularly, the development of epiphyseal plates in the pelvis, thigh, knees and heels contribute to one’s height growth significantly.
This whole process occurs in response to the release of hormones in the body, especially growth hormone. During the first year of birth and puberty, the secretion of growth hormone reaches its peaks, leading to natural growth spurt with the accelerated development of skeleton and rapid height boost.
At puberty, people can grow 3 to 4 inches of height per year on average. Anyway, such a dramatic increase is possible only during 1-1.5 years of peak height velocity. This is the only time a teenager can get taller at such a fast rate, thanks to the effects of hormones and the availability of growth plates.
How to know for sure if your height has stopped growing?
A common misconception is that people reach their adult height at the age of 18. The thing is, growth process differs between boys and girls, from person to person. Although age 18 is widely regarded as a remark for one’s maturity their skeletal system may develop at a different pace.
To estimate the time someone completely stops growing in height, we have to determine the person’s bone age. Based on the status of growth plates, doctors can find out exactly whether this person is still able to grow a few more inches or already at his adult height.
An epiphyseal plate still develops to help us grow taller as long as its cartilage has not completely turned into solid bone. With the secretion of appropriate hormones, including testosterone and estrogen, epiphyseal plates gradually harden to form mature bones.
This process is called epiphyseal fusion, or the closure of growth plates. This is visualized by the blurring and disappearance of dark lines on the X-ray image.
Since the first menstrual cycle, most girls get taller at a slower rate – no more than one or two inches per year. This is because their epiphyseal plates start to fuse until the girls reach bone maturity and stop growing about 2-3 years afterwards.
Boys tend to hit puberty later than girls, so the complete growth plate closure in boys also occurs later than in their female peers, making male height stop increasing a couple years later.
Even in the same group of gender, not everyone stops getting taller at the same time. We cannot say for certain if a teenage boy is already at his final height just because other boys at the same age have stopped growing taller.
Some late bloomers whose pubertal onset is delayed, possibly due to genetic factors or nutrition, will have a few more years than their peers to gain height.
On the other hand, if a girl starts puberty earlier than normal, her bones will mature more quickly and stop lengthening sooner than expected. Based on the degree of epiphyseal fusion shown on the X-ray film, doctors can determine her bone age and her chances of height gain.
She may grow taller and faster compared to other peers at first, but finally her height as an adult will be shorter than her potential height, and even shorter than average due to reduced time of growth.
Take care of growth plates to avoid stunting height
Since epiphyseal plates play a vital role in the skeletal development, children and adolescents need to protect the plates from injuries to grow taller properly.
As the softest and weakest part of a bone, growth plates are vulnerable and very likely to get injured. A large number of growth plate damages result from overuse injuries, also called repetitive stress injuries.
Movements that repeat over and over, mostly in sports and intense training, can cause children to incur these injuries. Some typical examples include knee pain (Jumper’s Knee) in young basketball players, and shoulder pain (Little League shoulder) commonly found in throwing athletes.
Although minor damages and fractures in growth plates can quickly heal, underestimating such injuries over time may lead to more problems in the future, like crooked fingers, shorter limbs, or chronic pain during adulthood. Therefore, children in general and highly active kids in particular are recommended to follow these suggestions:
1. Have a proper break time from playing sports to enable the healing of micro damages and the recovery of growth plates.
2. Use personal protective equipment (PPE) for sports, both in training and competition.
3. Stay cautious about joining risky activities, such as extreme sports.
4. Avoid pushing or lifting excessively heavy items that can cause severe pressure on growth plates.
Besides physical activities, nutrition also matters for a healthy development of growth plates. Children should cut down on soft drinks, sugary and fatty foods that easily lead to obesity, since excess body weight will damage growth plates and thus limit height increase.
A good diet for height boost should feature a variety of foods rich in proteins, vitamin C, vitamin D, and minerals (calcium, phosphorus, zinc, magnesium).
These are essential nutrients to construct and develop epiphyseal cartilage as well as bones. Parents can easily build such a lot of healthy, delicious menus for their kids with fish, chicken, legumes, fruits, leafy greens, and dairy products.
Detect growth plate damage
A growth plate has not ossified like solid bones, so the structure itself and its injuries do not appear on X-ray, making it more challenging to detect damages.
Whenever a child complains about some pain in the joint, and there are also changes in performance or inability to continue activity because of pain, it may signal a risk of
growth plate damage.
Even if there is no swelling, bruising or visible break, the child should be taken to the doctor for a diagnosis. Doctors may use ultrasound, take a CT scan (Computed tomography) or MRI scan (Magnetic resonance imaging) to identify the presence of an injury and give a proper treatment afterwards.
Understanding the role of growth plates will help us to make efforts at the right time for effective height gain. The closure of growth plates is inevitable and irreversible; there is no natural solution to boost one’s height dramatically by inches after the plates have fused totally. Therefore, making the best of our growing years is the ultimate way to improve stature and get a good adult height.