Adaptation of the proximal humerus to physical activity: A within-subject controlled study in baseball players

Stuart J. Warden, Julio Carballido-Gamio, Keith G. Avin, Mariana E. Kersh, Robyn K. Fuchs, Roland Krug, Ryan J. Bice

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The proximal humerus is a common, yet understudied site for osteoporotic fracture. The current study explored the impact of prolonged physical activity on proximal humerus bone health by comparing bone properties between the throwing and nonthrowing arms within professional baseball players. The proximal humerus in throwing arms had 28.1% (95% CI, 17.8 to 38.3%) greater bone mass compared to nonthrowing arms, as assessed using dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry. At the level of the surgical neck, computed tomography revealed 12.0% (95% CI, 8.2 to 15.8%) greater total cross-sectional area and 31.0% (95% CI, 17.8 to 44.2%) greater cortical thickness within throwing arms, which contributed to 56.8% (95% CI, 44.9 to 68.8%) greater polar moment of inertia (i.e., estimated ability to resist torsional forces) compared to nonthrowing arms. Within the humeral head and greater tubercle regions, throwing arms had 3.1% (95% CI, 1.1 to 5.1%) more trabecular bone, as assessed using high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging. Three-dimensional mapping of voxel- and vertex-wise differences between arms using statistical parametric mapping techniques revealed throwing arms had adaptation within much of the proximal diaphysis, especially the posterolateral cortex. The pattern of proximal diaphysis adaptation approximated the pattern of strain energy distribution within the proximal humerus during a fastball pitch derived from a musculoskeletal and finite element model in a representative player. These data demonstrate the adaptive ability of the proximal humerus to physical activity-related mechanical loads. It remains to be established how they translate to exercise prescription to improve bone health within the proximal humerus; however, they provide unique insight into the relationship between prolonged loading and skeletal adaptation at a clinically relevant osteoporotic site.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)107-115
Number of pages9
StatePublished - Apr 2019


  • Exercise
  • Internal impingement
  • Mechanoadaptation
  • Osteoporosis
  • SPM
  • Shoulder

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Physiology
  • Histology


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