Two key factors influence growth potential:
- growth plates
- hormones, with the main one being the growth hormone.
Growth plates, or growth zones, are located at the ends of the bones in our arms and legs. They’re soft layers made up of cartilage tissue.
Each growth zone on each bone has a different growth potential. For example, the growth zones around the knees have a higher growth potential than other zones in the legs. They lengthen by 10mm per year during childhood, while the ankle bones only grow by 4mm.1
At the same time, research2 shows that these bones are less of a priority for the body. For instance, if there’s not enough nutrition, they’ll lag behind first.
…metacarpal and sitting height growth would be prioritized over height and leg length due to greater functional significance.2
relative leg length reflects nutritional status and health during the years of physical growth3
Keep an eye on the growth of your legs compared to your torso to spot any issues in time.
The growth hormone causes cartilage tissue to divide. Its secretion occurs in the pituitary gland, and then it’s transported through the blood stream to the liver, where it stimulates the production of IGF-1.
In the growth plates, IGF-1 starts the process of cartilage cell division. Growth occurs due to the proliferative zone, where chondrocytes are arranged in columns.4 Newly created cells push the old cells towards the center of the bone, where they harden, gradually lengthening the bones and making you grow taller.
Bone growth speeds up during growth spurts, which happen in childhood and early adolescence.
Growth slows down when the plates fuse, and the skeleton reaches maturity. This usually happens at around 14 years old for girls and 16 years old for boys.
Ríos L, Terán JM, Varea C, Bogin B. Plasticity in the growth of body segments in relation to height-for-age and maternal education in Guatemala. Am J Hum Biol. 2020 Jul;32(4):e23376. doi: 10.1002/ajhb.23376. Epub 2019 Dec 19. PMID: 31854051; PMCID: PMC7507214. ↩ ↩2
Zavarukhin V.I., Morenko E.S., Sviridov M.K., Govorov A.V. Embryonic development and the structure of the growth plate // Pediatric Traumatology, Orthopaedics and Reconstructive Surgery. - 2015. - Vol. 3. - N. 2. - P. 61-65. doi: 10.17816/PTORS3261-65 ↩
Stevenson, S., Hunziker, E. B., Herrmann, W., & Schenk, R. K. (1990). Is longitudinal bone growth influenced by diurnal variation in the mitotic activity of chondrocytes of the growth plate?. Journal of orthopaedic research : official publication of the Orthopaedic Research Society, 8(1), 132–135. https://doi.org/10.1002/jor.1100080117 ↩
Noonan, K. J., Farnum, C. E., Leiferman, E. M., Lampl, M., Markel, M. D., & Wilsman, N. J. (2004). Growing pains: are they due to increased growth during recumbency as documented in a lamb model?. Journal of pediatric orthopedics, 24(6), 726–731. https://doi.org/10.1097/00004694-200411000-00024 ↩
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