Better to Bend Than to Break: An Analysis of Joint Range of Motion by Gender, Chronological Year Group and Sports Categorisation of Youth Athletes in a Leading Talent Development Programme

Reduced joint range of motion (ROM) has been associated to an increased likelihood of injury and a reduced expression of optimal physical performance. There is a paucity of data in the literature pertaining to the lower limb joint ROM for youth athletes across genders, chronological year groups and sport categories. An analysis of joint ROM in this cohort may assist in the optimal delivery of targeted interventions for a range of physical training outcomes. As such, this study aimed to analyse joint ROM across multiple lower extremity sites in youth athletes across genders, chronological year groups and sports categorisations.

Data was analysed retrospectively for the time period 2017 to 2019. Across year (YR) groups 10-13, 449 datasets were collected. Hip flexor ROM was measured via the modified Thomas test. Ankle ROM motion was measured via the knee to wall test. Hip internal rotation (IR) was measured via the seated medial hip rotation test. Hamstring ROM was measured via the 90/90 active extension test. A goniometer was used to measure ROM. Data was analysed via magnitude-based inferences, comparing genders, year groups and sport categories. Sports were split into team sports (TS), striking sports (SS) and centimetres, grams and seconds sports (CGS).

Girls have a likely trivial difference to boys in hip flexor ROM and possibly greater ankle, hip IR and hamstring ROM. YR11, 12 and 13 showed possibly to likely greater ankle ROM compared to YR10. Hip IR in YR13 compared to YR12 was possibly to likely lower. There were unclear comparisons between all YR groups in hamstring ROM. Striking sports showed possibly to likely greater hip flexor ROM, possibly to very likely lower hip IR, possibly to likely lower ankle ROM, and trivial to possibly lower hamstring ROM compared to CGS and TS.

Practical Applications
The results suggest ROM interventions targeting youth male athletes may be advantageous, with an emphasis at the ankle and posterior thigh. In addition, advanced chronological age may be a consideration for interventions to enhance proximal joint ROM, but not distal joint ROM of the lower extremity. Finally, results suggest that sports categories may display compromised joint ROM relative to others, whereby SS may benefit from targeted ROM interventions involved hip IR, ankle and hamstring ROM. Therefore, specific ROM interventions in youth sport, based on categorisations of gender, chronological age and sport type may be warranted.

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