Navigate Up
Female gymnast and coach working on the uneven bars

Youth Gymnastics Injuries

Gymnastics has one of the highest injury rates among girls’ sports, with almost 100,000 gymnasts injured each year.
 
Compared to 20 years ago, young athletes:
  • Begin gymnastics at earlier ages
  • Spend more time practicing
  • Perform more difficult skills
These tips can help your gymnast prevent injury and improve performance.

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 in the body. Some injuries, such as bruises and scrapes, are inevitable.
 
Common, more serious injuries include:
  • Wrist fractures
  • 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
Gymnasts are taught how to fall and land safely to decrease the risk of damage to the spine, head, neck, or wrist. Falls that result only in bruises and scrapes generally are not serious and don’t require medical attention.
 
Evaluation by a medical professional usually is advisable for more severe injuries, such as:
  • Landing in an awkward position
  • Missing her footing on the beam or grip on the bars
  • Feeling pain after practicing a skill over and over
Head injuries from a fall can range from mild to severe. Symptoms may show up right away or hours later.
 
The experts at UPMC Sports Medicine’s Young Athlete Program can work with your pediatrician to evaluate and aggressively treat your gymnast's injuries to help prevent more serious long-term effects.

Causes of Gymnastics Injuries

  • Insufficient flexibility
  • Decreased strength in the arms, legs, or core
  • Poor balance
  • Imbalances in strength or flexibility (one side stronger than the other)

Overuse Injuries 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 injury.

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. This chart shows what happens to a gymnast who normally kicks with the right leg when doing a handstand.
Chart showing what happens to a gymnast who normally kicks with the right leg when doing a handstand.

Preventing Gymnastics Injuries

  • Strength training is good for injury prevention. 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.

Mental Training


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.

Perfection

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.
 
UPMC Sports Medicine’s Mental Training Program provides sport-specific mental training techniques to help athletes focus on delivering consistent athletic performance.
 

The Young Athlete Program

UPMC Sports Medicine’s Young Athlete Program provides individualized attention for injury prevention and management. Regardless of age or sport, we have the expertise, technology, and services to make a difference for your young athlete.

Call 1-855-93-SPORT (77678) for more information or to make an appointment.

Physical Therapy

Our partner, UPMC Centers for Rehab Services, offers your young athlete physical therapy at more than 50 locations throughout western Pa.

Call 1-888-723-4CRS (4277) to find an office near you or to make an appointment.

©  UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Supplemental content provided by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions. All rights reserved.

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on UPMC.com is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, UPMC.com is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

For UPMC Mercy Patients: As a Catholic hospital, UPMC Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as determined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, UPMC Mercy neither endorses nor provides medical practices and/or procedures that contradict the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

© UPMC
Pittsburgh, PA, USA UPMC.com