Thickening and increase of area of cartilage have been proposed as two alternative mechanisms of cartilage functional adaptation. The latter has been reported in endurance sportsmen. In weightlifters, extreme strain applied to the articular surfaces can result in other forms of adaptation. The aim of this research is to determine whether cartilage thickness is greater in elite weightlifters than in physically inactive men. Weightlifters (13) and 20 controls [age and body mass index (BMI) matched] underwent knee Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). A single sagittal slice of the knee was taken and cartilage thickness was measured in five and six regions of the medial and lateral femoral condyles, respectively. The analyzed segments represented weight-bearing and nonweight-bearing regions. The tibia cartilage in the weight-bearing area was also measured. The time of training onset and its duration in the weightlifter group were recorded. The cartilage was found to be significantly thicker in weightlifters in most of the analyzed regions. The distribution of cartilage thickness on the medial and lateral femoral condyles was similar in both groups. The duration of training was not associated with cartilage thickness, but the time of training onset correlated inversely with cartilage thickness. It is possible that in high-strain sports, joint cartilage can undergo functional adaptation by thickening. Thus, mechanical loading history could exert a postnatal influence on cartilage morphology.
Keywords: cartilage thickness; functional adaptation; magnetic resonance imaging; weightlifting.
© 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.