Growth, pubertal development, skeletal maturation and bone mass acquisition in athletes

Hormones (Athens). Oct-Dec 2004;3(4):233-43. doi: 10.14310/horm.2002.11132.


The genetic potentials for growth can be fully expressed only under favourable environmental conditions. Excessive physical training may negatively affect growth, especially during puberty. Sports that require a strict control of energy input in the presence of a high energy output are of particular concern. In gymnastics, a different pattern in skeletal maturation was observed, leading to an attenuation of growth potential ins Artistic Gymnasts (AG), more pronounced in males than in females, whereas in female Rhythmic Gymnasts (RG) the genetic predisposition to growth was preserved because of a late catch-up growth phenomenon. In all other sports not requiring strict dietary restrictions, no deterioration of growth has been documented. Intensive physical training and negative energy balance modify the hypothalamic pituitary set point at puberty, prolong the prepubertal stage and delay pubertal development and menarche in a variety of sports. In elite RG and AG the prepubertal stage is prolonged and pubertal development is entirely shifted to a later age, paralleling the bone age rather than the chronological age. Bone formation, and, consequently, BMD are enhanced by physical activity. In athletes, high-impact loading activities have been shown to improve BMD, while in sports requiring a lean somatotype, the delay in skeletal maturation and pubertal development, resulting from hypoestrogenemia, predisposes athletes to osteopenia. In AG, an increase in bone density is observed using the bone age as denominator.