Size and blood flow of central and peripheral arteries in highly trained able-bodied and disabled athletes

J Appl Physiol (1985). 2003 Aug;95(2):685-91. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00710.2001. Epub 2002 Nov 8.


In a cross-sectional study, central and peripheral arteries were investigated noninvasively in high-performance athletes and in untrained subjects. The diastolic inner vessel diameter (D) of the thoracic and abdominal aorta, the subclavian artery (Sub), and common femoral artery (Fem) were determined by duplex sonography in 18 able-bodied professional tennis players, 34 able-bodied elite road cyclist athletes, 26 athletes with paraplegia, 17 below-knee amputated athletes, and 30 able-bodied, untrained subjects. The vessel cross-sectional areas (CSA) were set in relation to body surface area (BSA), and the cross-section index (CS-index = CSA/BSA) was calculated. Volumetric blood flow was determined in Sub and Fem via a pulsed-wave Doppler system and was set in relation to heart rate to calculate the stroke flow. A significantly increased D of Sub was found in the racket arm of able-bodied tennis players compared with the opposite arm (19%). Fem of able-bodied road cyclist athletes and of the intact limb in below-knee amputated athletes showed similar increases. D of Fem was lower in athletes with paraplegia (37%) and in below-knee amputated athletes proximal to the lesion (21%) compared with able-bodied, untrained subjects; CS-indexes were reduced 57 and 31%, respectively. Athletes with paraplegia demonstrated a larger D (19%) and a larger CS-index in Sub (54%) than able-bodied, untrained subjects. No significant differences in D and CS-indexes of the thoracic and abdominal aorta were found between any of the groups. The changes measured in Sub and Fem were associated with corresponding alterations in blood flow and stroke flow in all groups. The study suggests that the size and blood flow volume of the proximal limb arteries are adjusted to the metabolic needs of the corresponding extremity musculature and underscore the impact of exercise training or disuse on the structure and the function of the arterial system.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amputees
  • Aorta, Abdominal / diagnostic imaging
  • Aorta, Abdominal / physiopathology
  • Aorta, Thoracic / diagnostic imaging
  • Aorta, Thoracic / physiopathology
  • Arteries / diagnostic imaging*
  • Arteries / physiopathology*
  • Bicycling*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Disabled Persons*
  • Extremities / blood supply
  • Femoral Artery / diagnostic imaging
  • Femoral Artery / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Leg
  • Paraplegia / physiopathology
  • Physical Education and Training*
  • Regional Blood Flow
  • Stroke Volume
  • Subclavian Artery / diagnostic imaging
  • Subclavian Artery / physiopathology
  • Tennis*
  • Ultrasonography, Doppler, Duplex