Date of Submission



Adolescent growth provides a unique opportunity for the growing body to adapt to external stimuli. A positive association between site-specific mechanical loading and increases in regional bone mineral content (BMC) during adolescence is established. Mechanical loads associated with middle-distance running expose the skeleton to a combination of compressive ground reaction forces and muscular contraction. Previous studies concerning musculoskeletal health in active adolescents are largely limited to planar, two-dimensional measures of bone mineral status, using Dual X-ray Absorptiometry (DXA). Intrinsic bone material properties are accurately measured using DXA. However, the interaction between bone material and structural properties that reflects the mechanical integrity of bone require a combination of imaging modalities. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) provides a three-dimensional geometric and biomechanical assessment of bone. When MRI is integrated with DXA technology, an effective non-invasive method of assessing in vivo bone strength is achieved. The impact of high training volumes on musculoskeletal development of male and female adolescent athletes engaged in repetitive, high magnitude mechanical loading has not been investigated. Specifically, differences in total body and regional bone mineral, bone and muscle geometry, bone biomechanical indices and bone strength at differentially-loaded skeletal sites have not been compared between adolescent middle-distance runners and age- and gender-matched non-athletic controls.;Objectives: (i) to investigate the effects of intense sports participation involving mechanical loading patterns on bone mineral, bone and muscle geometry, biomechanical indices and estimated regional bone strength between elite adolescent male and female middle-distance runners and age- and gender-matched controls (ii) to examine factors predictive of total body BMC, distal tibial bone geometry, distal tibial bone strength, and Hip Strength Analysis (HSA)- derived indicators of bone strength at the femoral neck. Methods: Four groups of 20 adolescents were comprised of male (mean (SD) age 16.8 REPLACE2 0.6 yr, physical activity 14.1 REPLACE2 5.7 hr.wk-1) and female (age 16 REPLACE2 1.7 yr, physical activity 8.9 REPLACE2 2.1 hr.wk-1) middle-distance runners, and male (16.4 REPLACE2 0.7 yr, physical activity 2.2 REPLACE2 0.7 hr.wk-1) and female (age 16 REPLACE2 1.8 yr, physical activity 2.0 REPLACE2 0.07 hr.wk-1) controls. Total body and regional BMC were calculated using DXA. Distal tibial bone and muscle cross-sectional areas (CSA) were assessed using MRI. To calculate distal tibial bone strength index (BSI), a region of interest representing 10% of the mid distal tibia was analysed for DXA-derived bone mineral and was combined with bone geometry and biomechanical properties from MRI assessments. Calculations for femoral neck strength were acquired from DXA-derived HSA software. Results: No differences were found between male athletes and controls for unadjusted BMC at total body or regional sites. After covarying for fat mass (kg), male athletes displayed greater BMC at the lumbar spine (p = 0.001), dominant proximal femur (p = 0.001) and dominant leg (p = 0.03) than male controls. No differences were found in distal tibial bone geometry, bone strength at the distal tibia or HSA-derived indicators of bone strength at the femoral neck between male athletes and controls.;Lean tissue mass and fat mass were the strongest predictors of total body BMC (R2 = 0.71), total muscle CSA explained 43.5% of variance in BSI at the distal tibia, and femur length and neck of femur CSA explained 33.4% of variance at the femoral neck. In females, athletes displayed greater unadjusted BMC at the proximal femur (+3.9 REPLACE21.4 g, p = 0.01), dominant femoral neck (+0.5 REPLACE2 0.12 g, p = 0.01) and dominant tibia (+4.1 REPLACE2 2.1 g, p = 0.05) than female controls. After covarying for fat mass (kg), female athletes displayed greater (p = 0.001) total body, dominant proximal femur and dominant leg BMC than female controls. Female athletes also showed greater distal tibial cortical CSA (+30.9 REPLACE2 9.5 mm2, p = 0.003), total muscle (+240.2 REPLACE2 86.4 mm2, p = 0.03) and extensor muscle (+46.9 REPLACE219.5 mm2, p = 0.02) CSA, smaller medullary cavity (-32.3 REPLACE2 14.7 mm2, p = 0.03) CSA and greater BSI at the distal tibia (+28037 REPLACE2 8214.7 g/cm3.mm4, p = 0.002) than female controls. Lean tissue mass and fat mass were the strongest predictors of total body BMC (R2 = 65), hours of physical weekly activity and total muscle CSA explained 58.3% of the variance of distal tibial BSI, and neck of femur CSA accounted for 64.6% of the variance in a marker of femoral neck HSA. Conclusion: High training loads are associated with positive musculoskeletal outcomes in adolescent middle-distance runners compared to non-athletic controls. Exposure to similar high training loads may advantage female adolescent athletes, more than male adolescent athletes compared with less active peers in bone strength at the distal tibia.


School of Exercise Science

Document Type


Access Rights

Open Access


301 pages

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Faculty of Health Sciences