Booster Shots

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A bad break for women

September 25, 2008 |  2:54 pm

When it comes to broken bones, women may be at a disadvantage. Not only are they more likely than men to break their forearm, requiring a cast, but they also may take longer to regain their strength.

A preliminary study found that women didn’t bounce back as quickly as men, strength-wise, after having a cast on their forearm for three weeks. At the end of the experiment, men and women had lost 30% of their muscle strength, but the strength of the five male participants returned to baseline levels after one week. The five women, however, still had shortfalls of about 30% below baseline after a week. Though all women experienced a slow recovery time back to their original strength, only one of the men displayed a similar pattern.

The preliminary study was recently presented at the American Physiological Society conference this week in Hilton Head, S.C. Volunteers were experimentally casted, meaning they didn’t really have broken or fractured bones, but were immobilized to mimic the effects of muscle loss that normally occurs.

Lead author Brian Clark, assistant professor of physiology at Ohio University, says hormones might play a part in the gender differences. Testosterone, involved in protein synthesis, which is integral in increasing muscle size, is much more prevalent in men. There may be social factors as well. Although all participants were instructed to do no exercise during the study, men may be more inclined to be more physically active.

"I think the take home message," says Clark, "is that women may require more intensive, prolonged rehabilitations following prolonged periods of casting or bed rest where there are dramatic losses of strength."

-- Jeannine Stein