Non-elite gymnastics participation is associated with greater bone strength, muscle size, and function in pre- and early pubertal girls



Recent reports indicate an increase in forearm fractures in children. Bone geometric properties are an important determinant of bone strength and therefore fracture risk. Participation in non-elite gymnastics appears to contribute to improving young girls’ musculoskeletal health, more specifically in the upper body.


The primary aim of this study was to determine the association between non-elite gymnastics participation and upper limb bone mass, geometry, and strength in addition to muscle size and function in young girls.


Eighty-eight pre- and early pubertal girls (30 high-training gymnasts [HGYM, 6–16 hr/ wk], 29 low-training gymnasts [LGYM, 1–5 h r/wk] and 29 non-gymnasts [NONGYM]), aged 6–11 years were recruited. Upper limb lean mass, BMD and BMC were derived from a whole body DXA scan. Forearm volumetric BMD, bone geometry, estimated strength, and muscle CSA were determined using peripheral QCT. Upper body muscle function was investigated with muscle strength, explosive power, and muscle endurance tasks.


HGYM showed greater forearm bone strength compared with NGYM, as well as greater arm lean mass, BMC, and muscle function (+5% to +103%, p < 0.05). LGYM displayed greater arm lean mass, BMC, muscle power, and endurance than NGYM (+4% to +46%, p < 0.05); however, the difference in bone strength did not reach significance. Estimated fracture risk at the distal radius, which accounted for body weight, was lower in both groups of gymnasts. Compared with NONGYM, HGYM tended to show larger skeletal differences than LGYM; yet, the two groups of gymnasts only differed for arm lean mass and muscle CSA.


Non-elite gymnastics participation was associated with musculoskeletal benefits in upper limb bone geometry, strength and muscle function. Differences between the two gymnastic groups emerged for arm lean mass and muscle CSA, but not for bone strength.

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This project was partially sponsored by the NSW Sporting Injuries Committee. The investigators are grateful to the participants and families for generously providing consent and time to support the project.

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Correspondence to L. A. Burt.

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Burt, L.A., Naughton, G.A., Greene, D.A. et al. Non-elite gymnastics participation is associated with greater bone strength, muscle size, and function in pre- and early pubertal girls. Osteoporos Int 23, 1277–1286 (2012).

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  • Artistic Gymnastics
  • Musculoskeletal
  • Peripheral quantitative computed tomography
  • Pre-puberty
  • Upper limb