Gymnastics Injuries, Treatment, and Prevention Tips
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 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. More serious, common gymnastics injuries include:
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 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. This chart shows 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.
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.
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.
Contact UPMC Sports Medicine's Pittsburgh gymnastics training experts to learn more about injury prevention and strength training.