Background: The identification of risk factors for injury is a key step for musculoskeletal injury prevention in youth sports. Not identifying and correcting for injury risk factors may result in lost opportunity for athletic development. Physical maturation and sex affect these characteristics, which may indicate the need for both age and sex-based injury prevention programs.

Hypothesis/Purpose: This study examined age and sex differences in knee strength, static balance, jump height, and lower extremity landing biomechanics in school- and high school-age athletes.

Study Design: Cross-sectional.

Methods: Forty healthy school aged (10.8±0.8 yrs) and forty high school (16.8±0.8 yrs) athletes completed isokinetic knee flexion and extension strength tests, single-leg static balance and single-leg vertical stop jump tasks.

Results: High school athletes were significantly stronger (~67% and 35% stronger for males and females, respectively) and jumped higher (regardless of sex) compared to school age athletes. High school males had worse balance (~28%) compared to their younger counterparts. High school females had lower strength (~23%) compared to males but had better balance (~46%). Conclusion: Maturation had different effects on the variables analyzed and sex differences were mainly observed after maturation. These differences may be minimized through appropriate age and sex specific training programs.

Levels of Evidence: 3a.

Clinical Relevance: Neuromuscular and biomechanical differences between sex and age groups should be accounted for in injury prevention and rehabilitation. Inadequate training may be a primary factor contributing to injuries in a young athletic population. When designing training programs for long term athlete development, programs should be dependent on decrements seen at specific time points throughout maturation.

What is known about the subject: Generally, both males and females get stronger and jump higher as they get older but the results comparing balance and biomechanics between genders or across age groups have been mixed.

What this study adds to existing knowledge: The current study looks at multiple neuromuscular and biomechanical variables in male and female participants at different maturation statuses. The current data supports the significant changes observed in strength and jump height, as both genders age, but the data also demonstrates significant differences in balance between age groups in males and between genders in balance and knee flexion angles.

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Published in International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, v. 16, issue 2.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CCBY-NC-ND-4.0). View this license’s legal deed at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0 and legal code at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/legalcode for more information.

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