Short Communication

Osteoporosis International

, Volume 22, Issue 7, pp 2205-2210

First online:

Sustained skeletal benefit from childhood mechanical loading

  • T. A. ScerpellaAffiliated withDepartment of Orthopedics and Rehabilitation, University of Wisconsin
  • , J. N. DowthwaiteAffiliated withDepartment of Orthopedic Surgery, SUNY Upstate Medical University, Institute for Human Performance Email author 
  • , P. F. RosenbaumAffiliated withDepartment of Public Health and Preventative Medicine, SUNY Upstate Medical University, Institute for Human Performance

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Preliminary prospective, longitudinal results suggest that pre-menarcheal exposure to artistic gymnastics is associated with greater radius BMC, aBMD, and projected area throughout growth and into early adulthood, more than 4 years after activity cessation. Any loss of benefit associated with de-training appears to be temporary.


Mechanical loading may enhance bone accrual during growth, but prospective evidence of benefit retention is limited. This prospective, longitudinal cohort study tests whether gymnastics is linked to distal radius advantages during growth and four or more years post-training cessation.


Semi-annually, female ex/gymnasts and non-gymnasts underwent height and weight measurements; questionnaires assessed calcium intake, physical activity, and maturation. Annual dual energy X-ray absorptiometry scans (Hologic QDR 4500W) measured total body fat-free mass, skull areal density (aBMD), and bone mineral content (BMC); forearm scans measured ultradistal and 1/3 radius area, BMC, and aBMD. Analysis inclusion criteria were: (1) achievement of gynecological age >4 years and (2) for gymnasts, >2 years of pre-menarcheal training (>6 h/week), ceasing between 0.5 year pre-menarche and 1 year post-menarche. Hierarchical linear modeling (HLM v6.0) evaluated outcomes for ex/gymnasts versus non-gymnasts; a slope/intercept discontinuity evaluated de-training effects.


Data from 14 non-gymnasts and six ex/gymnasts represented outcomes from 4 years pre-menarche to 9 years post-menarche. All adjusted distal radius parameters were higher in ex/gymnasts than non-gymnasts (p < 0.02). Ultradistal BMC, ultradistal aBMD, and 1/3 aBMD temporarily decreased with gymnastic cessation (p < 0.04); ultradistal area, 1/3 area, and 1/3 BMC did not change significantly. Skull outcomes did not differ between groups or change with activity cessation.


Gymnastic exposure during childhood and early puberty is associated with greater radius bone mass, size, and aBMD. Despite brief de-training losses in density and mass, significant skeletal benefits are manifested throughout growth and at least 4 years beyond activity cessation into early adulthood.


Adolescence Bone DXA Female Mechanical loading Radius