AAOS offers gymnastics safety tips
Gymnastics is a rigorous sport requiring long hours of practice and complex physical movements. In addition to the weight-bearing stress placed on the upper body during many gymnastics moves, the countless twists, flips and landings put gymnasts at risk for injuries.
Common gymnastics injuries are often from overuse or simple stress, and may include:
- wrist and shoulder injuries
- elbow dislocations
- foot and ankle injuries
- ACL injuries
- back injuries, such as lower lumbar spine stress fractures, otherwise known as spondylolysis.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 75,000 Americans (children and adults) were treated in hospitals, doctors’ offices and emergency rooms for gymnastics-related injuries in 2010. The medical costs alone totaled nearly $170 million.
AAOS Expert Advice:
“Gymnastics is a fun and creative sport, with many benefits to the athlete,” said Angela Smith, MD, a Philadelphia orthopaedic surgeon and American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) spokesperson. “Catastrophic injuries to the brain and spine are fortunately rare; however, more frequently occurring injuries such as joint sprains and bone fractures can lead to chronic pain and arthritis. The variety, repetition and intensity of movements– which increase as the gymnast progresses- can place athletes at risk for serious injury. These include not only the sudden, acute injuries such as ligament tears, but also “overuse” injuries such as stress fractures.”
“Fortunately, a good training program that includes appropriate and consistent warm-up exercises, safe and firmly secured equipment, and coaches who ensure safety and preparation before introducing new and more challenging moves, can help prevent injury.”
AAOS Safety Tips to Avoid Injury:
Maintain fitness. Be sure that you are in good physical condition at the start of the gymnastics season. During the off-season, stick to a balanced fitness program that incorporates aerobic exercise, strength training, and flexibility. Make sure your strength, endurance, and skill level are optimal before attempting more complex gymnastics moves.
Stretch consistently – before and after a practice or competition. Warm up with jumping jacks, run or walk in place for a minimum of 3-to-5 minutes. Then, slowly and gently stretch, holding each stretch for 30 seconds.
Dress appropriately. Bare feet or gymnastics shoes can help prevent a gymnast from slipping on the mat, balance beam or uneven bars. In addition, hand grips; wrist guards; wrist, ankle or torso belts; knee, elbow or heel pads; or braces, may be useful to prevent or minimize injury.
Focus on Technique. A gymnast should be physically and mentally prepared for any new moves, and know how to safely execute them. A coach should spot gymnasts during all practice sessions, but especially when a new or complex routine or maneuver is being performed.
Prepare for Injuries. Coaches should be knowledgeable about and prepared for emergencies such as facial cuts, bruises, or minor strains and sprains.
Equipment safety. Gymnasts should check to make sure the equipment at their training facility is properly maintained. The training facility should have appropriate floor padding to help reduce the force from a landing. Mats must be placed under the equipment and must be secured properly.
Return safely to training. If the gymnast has a bone or joint problem, he or she should not return to gymnastics until pain and swelling has subsided, and full range of motion and normal strength has been restored. In case of a concussion, the gymnast must have no symptoms and should be cleared by a doctor, before resuming practice.
Nutrition. It is essential that gymnasts have the correct nutrients to withstand the frequency and intensity of their training and to help the body recover. It is vital that gymnasts have an adequate intake of nutrients and minerals, such as calcium to assist in growth and for general health.
Hydrate. Even mild levels of dehydration can hurt athletic performance. Without enough fluids, your body will not be able to effectively cool itself through sweat and evaporation. A general recommendation is to drink 24 ounces of non-caffeinated fluid two hours before exercise. Drinking an additional 8 ounces of water or a sports drink right before exercise is also helpful. While you are exercising, break for an 8 oz. cup of water every 20 minutes.
Prevent Overuse Injuries. Because many young athletes are focusing on just one sport, and are training year-round, doctors are seeing an increase in overuse injuries. AAOS has partnered with STOP Sports Injuries to help educate parents, coaches, and athletes about how to prevent overuse injuries. For example, gymnasts who increase the time or intensity of their routines in an abrupt manner can increase their risk of experiencing an overuse injury.