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Gymnastics Injuries

 

Hospital emergency departments treat more than 25,000 injured gymnasts under age 15 each year. Many of these injuries can be prevented if athletes and trainers know about the special injury risks associated with the sport and if safety measures and equipment are put into place.

Tips for Preventing Gymnastics Injuries

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 organizations.

  • 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.

  • Make sure your child wears all the required safety gear every time he or she competes or practices. Gymnasts may need wrist guards and hand grips; special footwear and pads may also be required.

  • 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 sport.

  • Make sure first aid is available at all competitions and practices.

  • Talk to and watch your child's coach. Coaches should emphasize safety and understand the special injury risks that young gymnasts face.

  • 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 (www.aaos.org) 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 (www.nata.org). 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 202-662-0600.

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)

References:

The data and safety tips in this fact sheet were obtained from the following sources:

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.)


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