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Estimating height in bedridden patients

Estimates of pharmacokinetic parameters and evaluation of nutritional status rely on accurate measurement of not only body weight but also height. However, a number of common disabilities and disease processes make it difficult to accurately measure standing height in many patients. Therefore, various formulae based on bones that do not change length have been developed. These methods include knee height, forearm length and demi-span.

Knee height

Knee height is correlated with stature and, until recently, was the preferred method for estimating height in bedridden patients. Knee height is measured using a sliding broad-blade caliper. A device designed for this purpose is commercially available. The patient's height is then estimated using a standard formula.

Knee height measurement

Forearm length

This method is popular in the UK. The only tool needed is a tape to measure the ulna length between the point of the elbow and the midpoint of the prominent bone of the wrist. This value is then compared with a standardized height conversion chart.12

Ulna length measurement


Clinically, the most useful measurement is the demi-span. This method is recommended by the Mini Nutritional Assessment, and, like forearm length, requires no specialized equipment. Demi-span is measured as the distance from the middle of the sternal notch to the tip of the middle finger in the coronal plane. Height is then calculated from a standard formula.

Demi-span measurement


All three methods provide reasonably accurate estimates of stature in normally proportioned adults. Demi-span may be easier to obtain in patients with lower limb dysfunction. For patients with severe contractures, forearm length may more practical.


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