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CT Scans Confirm: You’re Just Big(ger)-Boned

May 27, 2011
Written by: , Filed in: Musculoskeletal Radiology
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Alas, CT scans have proven what many have suspected: Once we reach skeletal maturity at about age 20, our bones do not grow taller as we age. But they do grow wider. Specifically, our hip bones widen.

A new study by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has found that, from age 20 until age 79, the pelvis grows an average of nearly an inch wider. That could account for a three-inch increase in waist size, said Lawrence E. Dahners, MD, senior author of the study.

If the rest of the body widens similarly, that might account for much of the average increase in body weight of about a pound a year over that period of time, said Dr. Dahners, an orthopedics professor at the UNC School of Medicine.

“I think it’s a fairly common human experience that people find themselves to be wider at the age of 40 or 60 than they were at 20,” he said, as quoted in a university news release. “Until recently we assumed that this was caused simply by an increase in body fat.”

He continued:

Our findings suggest that pelvic growth may contribute to people becoming wider and having a larger waist size as they get older, whether or not they also have an increase in body fat.

Dr. Dahners and his colleagues were conducting an unrelated bursitis study when, to their surprise, they noticed pelvic widening in patient X-rays. Curious, they selected CT scans from 246 randomly selected patients. There were approximate 20 male and 20 female patients in each 10-year age group, from 20–29 to 70–79. The researchers measured:

  • The height and width of the L4 vertebral body
  • The width of the pelvic inlet (the hole in the middle of the pelvis)
  • The distance between the femoral heads (hip joints)
  • The diameters of the femoral heads

All of the widths (but not the height of the L4 vertebral body) continued to increase after skeletal maturity. The fact that the pelvic inlet also widened shows true pelvic growth rather than simple appositional bone formation, Dr. Dahners said. It would be smaller if appositional bone formation were occurring, he said.

The study was published online this week in the Journal of Orthopaedic Research.

It’s all very interesting and enlightening, of course. But it begs for a follow-up study—one that figures out how to get the body to stop doing that.

Related seminar: CT/MRI of the Abdomen and Pelvis

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