Gymnastics is a vigorous sport that can lead to building some of the most dynamic young athletes in the world and, at the same time, results in more injuries than most people realize. In fact, statistically, it has similar injury rates to football and rugby.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reported 22,000 children under the age of 14 years were treated in hospital emergency rooms for gymnastics-related injuries in 2009 and this number is trending upward. Almost half of the injuries occur with hand springs and flips; as the learning of these skills is a process of repeated failures and falls.
To limit the risk of injury, four tips should be followed (I would use followed with ‘tips’ and taken with ‘steps’) with all levels of gymnastics participation.
1. Set appropriate environment boundaries for training
Gymnastics facilities spend tens of thousands of dollars on protective equipment to pad and decrease the strains of the sports frequent tumbles and falls. Your basement or backyard lacks this same protection and is not the location to demonstrate to friends your “special tricks,” or master new skills. Parents need to set appropriate boundaries on where training occurs. Protective environment also includes the proper hand grips, wrist guards and event specific bracing that the coach may recommend.
2. Let your body take a break
Physical conditioning is a year round activity, but gymnastics at an early age should not be. Everyone needs a physical and emotional break throughout the year and this allows small strains to recover and not turn into significant injuries. Playing on multiple teams is rarely healthy and is setting you up to be injured.
3. Warm up and cool down before performing
Dynamic warm ups, appropriate post practice, or a training cool down with stretching helps the body absorb more strain, delaying injury and increasing the body’s tolerance to the demands of the sport long term.
4. Take your time to master the sport
Finally, gymnastics should not be a trial and error sport. Learning a new skill requires coaching, spotting and appropriate feedback on each attempt, as the child learns and adapts to a new challenge. Children below the age of 12 struggle with complex commands and do better with visual feedback. Filming their attempts on an electronic device can be helpful and gives them the ability to self-assess.
When an injury does occur it is important to fully recover with full range of motion, pain free strength, and a gradual build up to the prior level to allow the body to re-adapt after a break.
Check out more sports safety articles.
Written by the Sports Medicine team at Children’s Hospital Colorado.