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Keywords:

  • pQCT;
  • gymnastics;
  • female;
  • retired athletes;
  • bone geometry

Abstract

Bone strength benefits after long-term retirement from elite gymnastics in terms of bone geometry and volumetric BMD were studied by comparing retired female gymnasts to moderately active age-matched women. In a cross-sectional study, 30 retired female gymnasts were compared with 30 age-matched moderately active controls. Bone geometric and densitometric parameters were measured by pQCT at the distal epiphyses and shafts of the tibia, femur, radius, and humerus. Muscle cross-sectional areas were assessed from the shaft scans. Independent t-tests were conducted on bone and muscle variables to detect differences between the two groups. The gymnasts had retired for a mean of 6.1 ± 0.4 yr and were engaged in ≤2 h of exercise per week since retirement. At the radial and humeral shafts, cortical cross-sectional area (CSA), total CSA, BMC, and strength strain index (SSIpol) were significantly greater (13–38%, p ≤ 0.01) in the retired gymnasts; likewise, BMC and total CSA were significantly greater at the distal radius (22–25%, p ≤ 0.0001). In the lower limbs, total CSA and BMC at the femur and tibia shaft were greater by 8–11%, and trabecular BMD and BMC were only greater at the tibia (7–8%). Muscle CSA at the forearm and upper arm was greater by 15–17.6% (p ≤ 0.001) but was not different at the upper and lower leg. Past gymnastics training is associated with greater bone mass and bone size in women 6 yr after retirement. Skeletal benefits were site specific, with greater geometric adaptations (greater bone size) in the upper compared with the lower limbs.