Playing Football Makes You Shorter

New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10) celebrates after his 13-yard touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl XLII football game against the New England Patriots at University of Phoenix Stadium on Sunday, Feb. 3, 2008 in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson) AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

Winning the big game may bring your football team to new heights, but it may also make your physical stature just a little bit smaller.

Researchers report that repetitive blocking and tackling -- coupled with the weight of helmets and pads - can temporarily shave nearly half an inch off of players' heights.

They studied 10 high school football players -- lineman, defensive tackles, and others whose positions involved repetitive blocking and tackling. The average height of players before the game was 69.5 inches. Afterward, it was 69.2 inches.

Brian J. Campbell, PhD, an assistant professor of biomechanics at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette, headed the study. The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).

Defensive Maneuvers Compress Spinal Cord

Campbell says that it's well known that people shrink over the course of a day. "If you think of your body as an accordion, gravity squeezes you together as the day goes on," he says.

Football, he says, accelerates the process in two ways.

First, there's intermittent high-impact compression on the spinal column during defensive maneuvers. Then, there are low-impact continuous compressive forces from the weight of the football gear, he tells WebMD.

Campbell says that the loss in height has the potential to affect performance. "In a game such as football, being just a little shorter could mean the difference between a game-winning catch or a blocked field goal," he says.

It could also increase the chance of injury, Campbell says. Rubber-like discs pad the bones of the spine and absorb shock as you move - acting as a shock absorber.

"But if you take that disc and squish down on it, you'll lose some of that absorption. As a result, there's a lot more load being distributed on your back, and a greater chance of injury," Campbell says.

Gary I. Adler, MD, chairman of ACSM's communication and public information committee and an associate professor of medicine at New York University, says the study is "interesting. But whether there are any long-term consequences from the transient diminution of height remains to be seen."

By Charlene Laino
Reviewed by Louise Chang
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