During hominin plantigrade locomotion, the weight-bearing function of the fibula has been considered negligible. Nevertheless, studies conducted on human samples have demonstrated that, even if less than that of the tibia, the load-bearing function of the fibula still represents a considerable portion of the entire load borne by the leg. The present study assesses whether variation in habitual lower limb loading influences fibular morphology in a predictable manner. To achieve this, both fibular and tibial morphology were compared amongst modern human athletes (field hockey players and cross-country runners) and matched sedentary controls. Peripheral quantitative computed tomography was used to capture two-dimensional, cross-sectional bone images. Geometric properties were measured at the midshaft for each bone. Results show a trend of increased fibular rigidity from control to runners through to field hockey players. Moreover, relative fibular robusticity (fibula/tibia) is significantly greater in hockey players compared with runners. These results are likely the consequence of habitual loading patterns performed by these athletes. Specifically, the repeated directional changes associated with field hockey increase the mediolateral loading on the lower leg in a manner that would not necessarily be expected during cross-country running. The present study validates the use of the fibula in association with the tibia as a mean to provide a more complete picture of leg bone functional adaptations. Therefore, the fibula can be added to the list of bones generally used (tibia and femur) to assess the correspondence between mobility patterns and skeletal morphology for past human populations.
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