Gymnastics is a popular sport and is very challenging. Gymnastics has one of the highest injury rates with almost 100,000 gymnasts being injured every year. Compared to 20 years ago, more athletes are being injured in gymnastics. This is likely due to the fact that gymnasts are starting at a younger age to compete and practice in gymnastics, spending more time practicing, and performing more difficult skills.
Common Gymnastics Injuries
Gymnasts must be both powerful and graceful. They first learn to perfect a skill and then work on making their bodies look elegant while performing it. Gymnasts use both their arms and legs, putting them at risk for injury to almost any joint or part of their bodies. Some gymnastics injuries, such as bruises and scrapes, are inevitable, but more serious injuries can include:
- Wrist fractures
- Finger and hand injuries
- Cartilage damage
- Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears
- Knee and low back pain
- Spinal fractures and herniated discs
- Achilles tendon strains or tears
- Ankle sprains
- Shoulder instability
- Colles’ fracture
- Burners and stingers
Gymnasts are taught how to fall and land safely to decrease the risk of damage to the spine, head, neck, and wrists. Falls that result only in bruises and scrapes generally are not serious and don’t require medical attention. However, evaluation by a sports medicine physician usually is advisable for more severe injuries, such as: landing in an awkward position, missing their footing on the beam or grip on the bars, feeling pain after practicing a skill over and over.
Do gymnasts get head injuries?
Head injuries from a fall can range from mild to severe. Symptoms may show up right away or hours later. Dr. Kevin Mangum is a primary care sports medicine non-operative orthopedist who works with athletes who are gymnasts and those who have traumatic brain injuries and concussions. He can work with your other physicians to evaluate and aggressively treat your gymnast’s injuries to help prevent more serious long-term effects.
What are the causes of gymnastic injuries?
Causes of gymnastic injuries include insufficient flexibility, decreased strength in the arms, legs, and core, poor balance, imbalances in strength or flexibility (one side stronger than the other).
Are overuse injuries common in gymnastics?
Overuse injuries are the result of repetitive movement, often from kicking and turning on one side more than the other. This leads to muscle or flexibility imbalances, increasing the chance of gymnastics injuries.
Imbalances in strength or flexibility
A gymnast can be a “righty” or “lefty.” This refers to the leg gymnasts kick with first when performing handstands, cartwheels, or round-offs, or the direction they tend to turn in doing full turns or twists. This can leave one side of the body stronger and more flexible than the other. Care should be taken to balance strength and flexibility on both sides.
How can you prevent gymnastic injuries?
Strength training is good way to prevent injuries in gymnasts. It also keeps gymnasts motivated by helping them progress to the next skill level. Having a strong core provides gymnasts with a stable base for the arms and legs as they move in different directions. When the core (specifically the transverse abdominis muscle) contracts, it decreases the pressure placed on the lumbar spine. This muscle contracts when you try to draw the belly button toward the spine. Contracting this muscle while performing exercises on a therapy ball or stable surface will strengthen the core. Other good core exercises include planks, bridges, or tuck ups while hanging on the bar. Flexibility imbalances can occur in the thighs, calf muscles, and hips. Performing stretches several times a day and holding each stretch for 30 seconds will make a difference in flexibility.
How do gymnasts overcome fear?
Gymnasts are typically viewed as fearless. They not only walk across a four inch beam, but they perform flips and jumps on it. It’s natural for a gymnast to feel excited, nervous, or afraid when performing a new skill or competing. But, if these feelings force gymnasts to lose their focus, they may end up “bailing” (stopping part way through) during a skill or not noticing that a foot or hand is in an incorrect position to complete the skill safely. It’s important for coaches to be prepared to help the athlete land safely if this occurs.
Are gymnasts perfectionists?
Gymnasts strive for perfection. This can wear on the athlete, causing frustration or lack of enjoyment. Parents should support and talk to their gymnasts, but also let them know that, if they no longer enjoy the sport, it’s okay to end participation.
If you or a loved one have suffered a gymnastic injury, please call Dr. Kevin Mangum D.O. to schedule an appointment to discuss diagnosis and treatment options.