Upstate News

December 5, 2008
Darryl Geddes 315 464-4828

SUNY Upstate receives $2 million NIH grant to study bone density of young female gymnasts

SYRACUSE, N.Y.— Funded by a $2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, SUNY Upstate Medical University researchers will investigate whether gymnastic participation during childhood and adolescence leads to stronger, thicker bones in adulthood, decreasing the risk of osteoporosis (brittle bones) in old age. Principal investigator SUNY Upstate Associate Professor Tamara A. Scerpella, MD, has been studying the skeletal effects of gymnastics during growth for more than a decade.

Researchers will compare growth in bone density, size, shape and strength for female gymnasts between the ages of 9 and 11 with non-gymnasts of the same age over a span of five years. In addition, this funding will allow continued monitoring of bone properties in gymnasts and non-gymnasts from an earlier study, begun in 1997, as they age into their mid-20s.

“Our work uses gymnastics as a model for impact loading exercise, evaluating the effect that this exercise has on the growing skeleton. Our earlier study shows that gymnastic activity increases bone acquisition during growth, yet the extent to which these benefits are maintained is unclear,” said Scerpella, an orthopedic surgeon who, as an undergraduate, was a gymnast at the University of Iowa. “This work will provide a unique longitudinal perspective of bone growth and skeletal maintenance in the context of maturation and physical activity, and will assess the feasibility of developing an appropriate adolescent exercise prescription to increase adult bone strength.”

Scerpella currently is seeking participants for her study. Participants must be healthy girls ages 8 to 12, be able to commit for all five years of the study, and attend bone measurement appointments every six months. Throughout the course of the study, in addition to measuring bone density and shape, study participants will be asked questions about diet and exercise and undergo strength tests for hip, shoulder and elbow muscles. Study participants will be compensated. For more information, or to enroll in the study, contact Tina Craig, research coordinator, Department of Orthopedic Surgery at 315-464-8618.

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