, Volume 30, Issue 5, pp 580-587
Date: 22 May 2012

Mechanical loading with or without weight-bearing activity: influence on bone strength index in elite female adolescent athletes engaged in water polo, gymnastics, and track-and-field

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Abstract

Bone health is considered not to benefit from water-based sports because of their weight-supported nature, but available evidence primarily relies on DXA technology. Our purpose was to investigate musculoskeletal health in the upper and lower body in well-trained adolescent female athletes using pQCT and compare these athletes with less-active, age- and sex-matched peers. Bone mineral content, volumetric cortical and trabecular BMD, total and cortical area, and bone strength index were assessed at the distal and proximal tibia and radius in four groups of adolescent females (mean age, 14.9 years) including water polo players (n = 30), gymnasts (n = 25), track-and-field athletes (n = 34), and nonactive controls (n = 28). Water polo players did not show any benefit in bone strength index or muscle size in the lower leg when compared with controls. In contrast, gymnasts showed 60.1 % and 53.4 % greater bone strength index at the distal and proximal tibia, respectively, than nonactive females (p < 0.05). Similarly, track-and-field athletes displayed 33.9 % and 14.7 % greater bone strength index at the distal and proximal tibia, respectively, compared with controls (p < 0.05). In the upper body, water polo players had 31.9 % greater bone strength index at the distal radius, but not the radial shaft, and 15.2 % larger forearm muscle cross-sectional area than controls (p < 0.05). The greatest musculoskeletal benefits in the upper body were found in gymnasts. In conclusion, despite training at an elite level, female water polo players did not show any benefits in musculoskeletal health in the lower leg and only limited benefits in the upper body when compared with nonactive girls.