Tips for Preventing
To help your child avoid gymnastics injuries, follow these safety
tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Orthopedic
Surgeons, the National SAFE KIDS Campaign, and other sports and health
Before your child starts a gymnastics training program, take him
or her to the doctor for a physical exam. The doctor can help assess
any special injury risks your child may have.
Gymnasts may need wrist
guards and hand grips; special footwear and pads may also be required.
Make sure your child wears all the required safety gear every
time he or she competes or practices.
Teach your child not to play through pain. If your child gets
injured, see your doctor. Follow all the doctor's orders for
recovery, and get the doctor's OK before your child returns to the
Make sure first aid is available at all competitions and
Talk to and watch your child's coach. Coaches should emphasize
safety and understand the special injury risks that young gymnasts
Inspect the facilities where your child trains and competes.
Equipment should be in good condition and spaced far enough apart to
avoid collisions. Floors should be padded, and mats should be
secured under every apparatus. Safety harnesses should be used when
your child does new or difficult moves
Insist that your child have spotters when learning new skills or
doing difficult moves. Spotters should be present during practice
and competition--they can help catch your child if he or she falls.
Encourage your child to express concern about doing difficult
moves. Don't let the coach push your child to do things he or she is
not ready for.
Above all, keep gymnastics fun. Putting too much focus on winning
can make your child push too hard and risk injury.
Who Is Affected?
In the U.S., more than 600,000 children take part in school-sponsored
and club-level gymnastics competitions. Some gymnasts start training at
an early age (as young as 4 or 5 years old) and practice for several
hours each day. With the high physical demands of gymnastics--and the
increasing levels of difficulty--comes a high risk of injury. In a study
of high school athletes, gymnastics was the fourth leading cause of
injury, with an injury rate of 56 percent. Club gymnastics programs had
a rate of injury as high as 22 percent.
The majority of gymnastics-related injuries are mild to moderate,
with sprains, strains, and stress fractures being most common. Ankles
and knees are the most frequent sites of injury, typically resulting
from landings and dismounts. Injuries to the lower back are also common.
Although acute injuries are rarely severe, as many as half of all
injuries lead to chronic pain, and bone fractures in young athletes can
cause long-term physical problems.
Floor exercises are the most common cause of injury, due to the large
number of bends, twists, and landings required in those routines. Other
factors that increase the risk of injury are trying moves that are too
complicated for one's skill level, not using safety harnesses or
spotters, getting over-tired, and spending long hours practicing.
Of special concern among female gymnasts is improper diet and eating
disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia. The emphasis on a
slender physique can lead some female gymnasts to lower their food
intake so much that they deprive their bodies of essential nutrients.
Studies have found that these athletes have lower bone density and a
greater incidence of stress fractures.
For More Information:
American Academy of Pediatrics
Special health issues involving female gymnasts are discussed in
"Amenorrhea in Adolescent Athletes" (www.aap.org/policy/02626.html).
You can call AAP at 847-228-5097.
American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons
Through the public information link on the AAOS home page
you can access fact sheets on injury prevention for many popular sports,
including gymnastics. You can reach AAOS at 1-800-346-2267.
National Athletic Trainers Association
On NATA's home page
you'll find a link to injury information, including statistics and
prevention tips. NATA's phone number is 214-637-6282.
National SAFE KIDS Campaign
Visit the SAFE KIDS home page (www.safekids.org)
to access fact sheets on sports and recreation injuries or call
National Youth Sports Safety Foundation
The Winter 1998 issue of NYSSF's Sidelines included an
article on gymnastics injuries. To request a copy, contact NYSSF at 333
Longwood Avenue, Suite 202, Boston, MA 02115. (www.nyssf.org/wframeset.html)
The data and safety tips in this fact sheet were obtained from the
American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons Seminar (Sullivan J, Grana W,
editors). The Pediatric Athlete. Park Ridge, IL: The Academy, 1990:138.
American Academy of
Pediatrics. Sports Medicine: Health care for
young athletes. Elk Grove Village, IL: The Academy, 1991:158-159.
Caine D, Caine C, Lindner K, editors. Epidemiology of Sports
Injuries. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 1996:213-246.
Raney E. Child and adolescent gymnastics: How to avoid injury.
Hughston Health Alert. Available at www.hughston.com/hha/a.gym.htm
Accessed July 9, 1999.
Zetaruk M, Mitchell W. Gymnastics
Injuries. Sidelines 1998;7(2):1-2.
(Sidelines is a publication of the National Youth Sports Safety Foundation.)