Reasons for performing study: Subchondral bone provides structural support to overlying articular cartilage and plays an important biomechanical role in osteochondral diseases. Mechanical features of bone correlate strongly with bone mineral density, which is directed by the loading conditions to which the tissue is subjected.
Objective: To investigate the influence of physical activity levels on subchondral bone mineral density (sBMD) in foals during early development.
Methods: Three groups of foals were subjected to different physical activity levels from birth until age 5 months. A proportion of these foals were subjected to euthanasia at 5 months while remaining foals were subjected to similar physical activity levels for 6 months until euthanasia at 11 months. Osteochondral specimens were collected for measurement of sBMD with peripheral quantitative computed tomography at 2 differently loaded anatomical sites of the proximal phalangeal bone at 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 mm depth from the osteochondral junction.
Results: Growth significantly increased sBMD but by a different amount depending on anatomical location and physical activity level. Significantly higher sBMD was found at the habitually loaded central area in comparison to the intermittently peak loaded marginal site. Exercise increased sBMD throughout the whole depth of analysed tissue, but changes were generally more obvious at a depth of 2 mm. Interestingly, foals subjected to additional sprint training preserved the exercise-induced sBMD increase at the habitually loaded central area during the 6 months of the second phase of the study.
Conclusions: Habitual low-intensity loading elicits a greater response in sBMD in quantitative terms than high-intensity low-frequency loading at the sites investigated in this study. Future sBMD may be influenced by means of well-tailored exercise regimens at young age.
Potential relevance: Specific physical activity levels during early development may potentially reduce the prevalence of osteochondral injury later in life.