, Volume 20, Issue 5, pp 779-785
Date: 04 Sep 2008

Olympic fencers: adaptations in cortical and trabecular bone determined by quantitative computed tomography

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We investigated how cortical bone, trabecular bone, and muscle adapt in US Olympic Fencing Team members. These athletes demonstrate femoral cortical bone expansion, greater distal femoral trabecular bone density, and greater muscle mass compared to controls. This is the first study to investigate musculoskeletal adaptations in Olympic fencers.


Wolff’s law states that bone remodels according to mechanical forces placed upon it. Our goal was to determine how cortical and trabecular bone adapt in Olympic athletes who perform intermittent high-impact activity.

Materials and methods

Nine males from the 2004 US Olympic Fencing Team and nine matched controls were evaluated by quantitative computed tomography. Femurs were scanned at 50% and 75% along the shaft. We evaluated cortical thickness (C.Th), cortical (C.Ar), trabecular (Tb.Ar), and total bone areas (Tot.Ar), proportions of C.Ar and Tb.Ar to Tot.Ar, cortical (C.BMD.), trabecular (Tb.MBD), and total bone densities (Tot.BMD), muscle (M.Ar), and thigh areas (Th.Ar).


Fencers had greater C.Th (+24.5 to 38.8%), C.Ar (+16.9 to 19.6%), C.Ar/Tot.Ar (+6.3 to 16.3%), and lower Tb.Ar/Tot.Ar (−23.5% to −23.8%; p<0.05). Fencers demonstrated a positive difference in C.Th in the dominant vs. nondominant thigh at 50% (+5.4%, p = 0.040) and at 75% (+13.8%, p = 0.048 by analysis of covariance). Fencers had 54% greater Tb.BMD at 75% (p = 0.025), but not at 50% (p = 0.63). There was no difference between groups for C.BMD (p = .66 at 50%, p = 0.88 at 75%). Fencers had greater M.Ar (+30%) and asymmetrically greater M.Ar (+12.2%) in the dominant thigh (p < 0.004).


In world-class athletes who perform intermittent, high-impact activity, cortical bone expands, trabecular bone density is greater, and muscle mass is greater. This is the first study to examine musculoskeletal adaptations in Olympic fencers.