Water polo is associated with an apparent redistribution of bone mass and density from the lower to the upper limbs

Abstract

The bone response to exercise is site-specific and load-dependent. Recent evidence suggests that an inverse relationship may exist between loaded and unloaded sites, such that the former may benefit at the expense of the latter. The present study examined this possibility in 48 males (21 water polo players, 12 handball players, and 15 sedentary controls). Water polo and handball are alike with respect to the active loading of the upper limbs during overhead throwing; however, the weight-supporting environment of water polo removes the weight-bearing effect from the lower limbs. Bone mineral content (BMC), bone projected area (Ap), and areal bone mineral density (aBMD) of the total body and of various subregions were determined by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry. After adjusting for age, height, and weight, water polo players had higher arms BMC, Ap, and aBMD (by 22.2, 11.1, and 10.5%, respectively; P < 0.05), but lower legs aBMD (−6.3%; P < 0.05) relative to controls. On the contrary, compared to controls, handball players had higher BMC (from 11.8 to 24.3%), Ap (from 5.2 to 11.7%), and aBMD (from 6.4 to 11.9%) for the total body at all sites. Water polo athletes had increased arms and decreased legs aBMD ratios (regional-to-total) than either handball players or sedentary subjects (P < 0.001). Water polo is associated with an apparent redistribution of bone mass and density from the lower to the upper limbs, with no major effects on the rest of the body.

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Acknowledgements

This study was supported by the Greek Swimming Federation. We would like to thank Silia Sidossi, research assistant, for her help in data collection, as well as the subjects for their interest and participation in the study.

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Correspondence to Stavros A. Kavouras.

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Kavouras, S.A., Magkos, F., Yannakoulia, M. et al. Water polo is associated with an apparent redistribution of bone mass and density from the lower to the upper limbs. Eur J Appl Physiol 97, 316–321 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-006-0201-1

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Keywords

  • Skeleton
  • Exercise
  • Loading
  • Site-specific
  • Handball