Lumbar bone mineral asymmetry in elite cricket fast bowlers

PURPOSE: Bone responds to mechanical loading by increasing bone mineral density (BMD) and/or bone area to enhance bone strength at the site of the greatest strain. Such localised adaptation has not been demonstrated at the spine. The aim of this study is to determine if BMD and/or bone mineral content (BMC) differs between dominant (ipsilateral to bowling/throwing arm) and non-dominant sides of the vertebrae in cricket fast bowlers, and whether this asymmetry differs according to stress fracture or disc injury history. A further aim was to determine if regional BMD and BMC in the lumbar spine differ between fast bowlers, other cricketers, rugby players and non-active controls, to highlight the site-specific response of lumbar vertebra to unilateral activity. METHODS: 23 fast bowlers, 14 other cricketers, 22 rugby players and 20 controls underwent an antero-posterior (AP) and lateral DXA scans of their lumbar spine to assess BMD, BMC and area. A custom analysis measured BMD and BMC of the dominant and non-dominant sides (lateral 33%) of the AP lumbar spine. BMD and BMC were compared between groups, injury status, vertebrae and sides using ANOVA. RESULTS: Analysis of medical records showed that 6 fast bowlers had a history of lumbar stress fracture. Significantly greater BMD and BMC was found in the L4 non-dominant vertebra compared with the dominant vertebra in fast bowlers. BMD and BMC differed significantly according to vertebra, side and group, with fast bowlers having significantly greater BMD and BMC at the L3 and L4 non-dominant vertebra compared with other groups (L3: 13.3%-45.3%, L4: 15.7%-44.0%) compared with other groups. Fast bowlers who never suffered lumbar stress fracture had 3.6% and 1.7% greater BMD in the dominant and non-dominant sides of lumbar vertebrae respectively compared with those who did suffer lumbar stress fracture, but evidence of this was weaker (P = 0.08). CONCLUSION: The lumbar spine responds to a unique unilateral high loading activity through site-specific increased bone mass at the site of most strain. Fast bowlers had increased lumbar BMD, particularly on the non-dominant side of L4, although this adaptation was less marked in those with history of lumbar stress fracture. Site-specific low bone mineral density within the lumbar side may be implicated in the aetiology of lumbar stress fracture.