Cyclists at risk for bone loss

Cyclists at risk for bone loss

Cyclists are no strangers to breaks and fractures, but Andrew Coggan could be forgiven for not expecting a hip fracture from a bike crash at age 30. He may have been less surprised than most of his peers though, having recently been diagnosed with low bone density.
For many cyclists, an injury like Coggan’s is the first sign that bones are not as strong as they should be. Although cyclists are known for staying on top of their training heart rate zones and pedal cadence, increasing research suggests they should also pay attention to their risk of thinning bones.

“Sometimes athletes in their late 20s and early 30s will come in for a femur or a hip fracture, and they’ll be surprised because the fall was really not that bad,” says Dr. Max Testa, a sports medicine physician at the Orthopedic Specialty Hospital in Salt Lake City who routinely treats elite cyclists. “But we’ll look at the X-rays and see that there is some osteopenia [lower-than-normal bone density] there.”
Many factors contribute to osteopenia or osteoporosis (very low bone mineral density) in cyclists, but one of the culprits is the nature of the exercise itself. Cycling is a low-impact sport that puts little mechanical load on the bones. That’s great if you have joint problems, but it’s the weight-bearing nature of exercise that signals bones to create more mass. Without such stress, bones don’t get stronger, making them more prone to injury.

 

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