NGO and charity committed to reducing injury in sport

Understanding the Teenage Growth Spurt: Navigating Time’s Influence on Health and Development

Celebrating British Science Week 2024

DR GEMMA PARRY

The teenage growth spurt stands as a remarkable phenomenon amidst the intricate concept of time. Whilst the concept of time is often perceived as linear, the growth spurt introduces a fascinating dimension where time seems to accelerate, decelerate and warp altogether.

A pivotal moment that defines the journey from childhood to adulthood – as we consider British Science Week this week, it is pertinent to delve into this transformative phase of human development, exploring its nuances and profound impacts on the lives of teenagers, particularly in relation to physical activity and health. Read on to find out more about how it affects the growing body.

The teenage growth spurt stands as a remarkable phenomenon amidst the intricate concept of time. Whilst the concept of time is often perceived as linear, the growth spurt introduces a fascinating dimension where time seems to accelerate, decelerate, and warp altogether. A pivotal moment that defines he journey from childhood to adulthood, as we consider British Science Week, it is pertinent to delve into this transformative phase of human development, exploring its nuances and profound impacts on the lives of teenagers, particularly in relation to physical activity and health.
 

The Teenage Growth Spurt: A Time of Accelerated Change

Driven by a mix of genetics, hormones and lifestyle factors, the teenage growth spurt is characterised by rapid biological, emotional and psychological transformations. This surge in growth brings about a significant alteration in height and weight, body composition and physical development. Typically occurring between the chronological ages of 10 to 16 for girls and 12 to 18 for boys, it can leave teenagers their parents, teachers and coaches bouncing between a rollercoaster of bewilderment and exhilaration.
 

Bone Growth Breakdown: A Foundation for Future Health

During adolescence, girls typically experience a growth spurt of around 3.5 inches per year, whilst boys often grow about 4.1 inches. During adolescence, bone growth undergoes remarkable acceleration, with growth plates elongating limbs at a surprising pace. The teenage years are also a crucial period for laying the foundations for future skeletal health. Engaging in physical activity during this time allows teenagers to maintain strong bones, crucial for maintaining bone density later on in life.
 

Muscle Matters: Strength and Development

Accompanying bone growth, although not always at the same time, is the development of muscles, influenced by hormone and genetic factors. Boys may notice bulkier frames and new-found strength as they gain a surge in muscle mass due to testosterone, gaining averages of 9kg of muscle mass per year. Girls undergo a different pace of muscle growth under the influence of oestrogen averages of 8.3kg of mass per year still occur. These varied and asynchronous changes mark significant milestones in physical development of strength and power for both.
 

Coordination Chronicles: Navigating Physical Changes

Picture Bambi: wobbly legs and uncertain steps. That’s the essence of adolescent coordination. As bodies stretch and bones and muscles strengthen, some young people may experience a temporary loss of grace. An important aspect affecting children’s coordination (and strength) is the development of their nervous system. During the growth spurt, nerve fibres develop myelin (a protective coating) that allows children to perform skilled movements and react quickly. As children grow, myelin develops and the nervous system matures. Development of the nervous system allows for improved performance in physical activities requiring balance, agility, strength and power. Mastering spatial orientation and coordination will take time for teenagers as they adjust to newly proportioned bodies and refine their motor skills.
 

Tall Tales: Beyond Physical Growth

The growth spurt encompasses more than just physical changes; teenagers are also facing big changes in their brains, emotions, and social lives. Grappling with questions of identity, autonomy and belonging, societal expectation and cultural norms amidst fluctuating moods and emotions. Time becomes this big marker showing them how much they’ve grown and how far they have come since their childhood days, as their brains strive to catch up with their rapidly evolving selves.

Time Waits for No One: Understanding Variations

Even in growth spurts, boys and girls appear to take different paths, embarking on their growth journeys at different times and paces as some reach adulthood sooner than others. With early maturation believed to be more advantageous to boys and a greater hinderance to girls, differences in timing of the growth spurt can impact emotional, psychological and physical development. These normal yet highly variable and often temporary changes highlight the importance of tailored support and guidance for each teenager.
 

Ticking Time Clocks: The Role of Physical Activity, PE and Sport

As we marvel at the wonders of the teenage growth spurt, research shows that regular physical activity during adolescence not only supports healthy growth and development but also lays foundations for lifelong brain and physical wellbeing.  From strengthening bones, muscles, and joints to improving cardiovascular and mental health in later life, the benefits are endless. Whilst 47% of children are meeting current chief medical officer guidelines for being physically active (Sport England, 2023) over 50% of children are still yet to meet this goal. The teenagers and young people of today will become the 80-year-olds of tomorrow. The experiences encountered during these formative years reverberate through the decades, shaping the trajectory of one’s health, wealth and wellbeing later in life.

With 64% of young women quitting sport by the time they have finished their growth spurt (Women in Sport), understanding the impacts of the adolescent growth spurt, especially, from the perspective of young girls, seems to be a crucial for unlocking the potential for longevity in life.
 

Navigating the Teenage Growth Spurt with Purpose

Time influences everything we do. The growth spurt is just one piece of the time puzzle in teenage biology, psychology, and sociology, yet time is a social construct that has no meaning until we give it meaning. So, as we pause to reflect during British Science Week, let’s ask ourselves this:

What can we do as a collective to create a system of meaning that curates a better experience for today’s teenager that impacts them throughout their lifetime? Science is more than just textbooks and lab coats; it’s about exploring the world around us and within us. By seeking to understand the science behind and throughout their growth, and by embracing curiosity, collaboration, and creativity, we can better support teenagers with their journeys to success.

About the author

Gemma Parry PhD is the Growth and Maturation Project Lead in our work underway with the University of Bath. Gemma is a physiotherapist and musculoskeletal researcher with over 15 years' experience across the health and education sectors, including. She holds a PhD in Movement Assessment and the Adolescent Child, an MSc in Sports Rehabilitation and a PGCert in Higher Education. 

She was the lead physiotherapist to GB Short Track Speed Skating at PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics, the EYOF in Finland 2022 for Team GB, and Wheelchair Basketball Team England during the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games. Previously occupying positions at multiple sports organisations, including GB Boxing and Birmingham City FC, clinically Gemma continues to work for the English Institute of Sport delivering across multi-sport Olympic and Paralympic programmes.

you might be interested in

  • ARTICLE
  • 06 Feb 2024

My Voice Matters: Young voices in sport can challenge the unspoken rules of the game

read more
  • PRESS RELEASE
  • 25 Oct 2023

4 in 5 parents want schools and sports clubs to keep official record of sports injuries

read more
  • PRESS RELEASE
  • 20 Feb 2023

Podium Analytics and University of Bath launch research project to understand and manage growth spurt challenges in youth sport health

read more