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Am J Phys Anthropol, 2009; 140(1): 160-72, PMID: 19358297

Habitual throwing and swimming correspond with upper limb diaphyseal strength and shape in modern human athletes.

Year: 2009

Shaw CN, Stock JT
Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies, Department of Biological Anthropology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB2 1QH, UK.


Variation in upper limb long bone cross-sectional properties may reflect a phenotypically plastic response to habitual loading patterns. Structural differences between limb bones have often been used to infer past behavior from hominin remains; however, few studies have examined direct relationships between behavioral differences and bone structure in humans. To help address this, cross-sectional images (50% length) of the humeri and ulnae of university varsity-level swimmers, cricketers, and controls were captured using peripheral quantitative computed tomography. High levels of humeral robusticity were found in the dominant arms of cricketers, and bilaterally among swimmers, whereas the most gracile humeri were found in both arms of controls, and the nondominant arms of cricketers. In addition, the dominant humeri of cricketers were more circular than controls. The highest levels of ulnar robusticity were also found in the dominant arm of cricketers, and bilaterally amongst swimmers. Bilateral asymmetry in humeral rigidity among cricketers was greater than swimmers and controls, while asymmetry for ulnar rigidity was greater in cricketers than controls. The results suggest that more mechanically loaded upper limb elements--unilaterally or bilaterally--are strengthened relative to less mechanically loaded elements, and that differences in mechanical loading may have a more significant effect on proximal compared to distal limb segments. The more circular humerus in the dominant arm in cricketers may be an adaptation to torsional strain associated with throwing activities. The reported correspondence between habitual activity patterns and upper limb diaphyseal properties may inform future behavioral interpretations involving hominin skeletal remains.

GID: 1812; Last update: 05.05.2009