Mechanosensitivity of the rat skeleton decreases after a long period of loading, but is improved with time off

L. K. Saxon, A. G. Robling, I. Alam, C. H. Turner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

69 Scopus citations


After the initial adaptation to large mechanical loads, it appears as though the skeleton's responsiveness to exercise begins to wane. To counteract the waning effects of long-term mechanical loading, "time off" may be needed to improve the responsiveness of bone cells to future mechanical signals and reinitiate bone formation. The aim of this study was to determine whether bone becomes less sensitive to long-term mechanical loading and whether time off is needed to improve mechanosensitivity. Fifty-seven female Sprague-Dawley rats (7-8 months of age) were randomized to one of following groups: Group 1 loading was applied for 5 weeks followed by 10 weeks of time off (1 × 5); Group 2 loading was applied for 5 weeks, followed by time off for 5 weeks and loading again for 5 weeks (2 × 5); Group 3 loading was applied continuously for 15 weeks (3 × 5); Group 4 age-matched control group; and Group 5 baseline control group. An axial load was applied to the right ulna for 360 cycles/day, at 2 Hz, 3 days/week at 15 N. At the end of the intervention, all three loaded groups showed similar increases in bone mass, cortical area, and IMIN in response to mechanical loading. Bone formation rate of the loaded ulna was increased in the first 5 weeks of loading for all three loaded groups; however, during the last 5 weeks, it was only significantly increased in the group that had time off (2 × 5) (P < 0.05). The group that had time off (2 × 5) also showed greater improvements in work to failure compared to the group loaded for 5 weeks (1 × 5) and the entire 15 weeks (3 × 5). A second experiment showed that the waning effect of long-term loading on the skeleton is not a result of aging. In conclusion, mechanical loading of the rat ulna results in large improvements in bone formation during the first 5 weeks of loading, but continual loading decreases the osteogenic response. Having time off increases bone formation and improves the resistance to fracture.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)454-464
Number of pages11
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2005


  • Bone adaptation
  • Exercise
  • Mechanical loading
  • Rat model
  • Recovery

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Hematology

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