Gymnastics is an extremely difficult sport that involves excessive body strength and power, extreme precision and skill, and complex routines that drastically increase the risk of injury.
The sport itself is known as one of the highest-risk sports in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) when it comes to injury, in large part due to the extreme stresses that occur during a given maneuver or maneuvers.
As a result of the nature of the sport, more injuries are certainly more common than others, though both upper body and lower extremity injuries are prevalent.
In what follows, we’ll be discussing the most common gymnastics injuries, the likely causes of each, as well as preventative tips and recommendations. Because of the nature of the sport, not all injuries can be prevented; however, certain proactive steps should be taken to reduce the risk of injury.
Most Common Gymnastics Injuries
Gymnastics has one of the highest rates of injury for any sport, especially for females. In fact, an average of 100,000 women, both young and old, report a gymnastic-related injury annually.
While a certain level of skill, strength, and preparation is required of gymnastics, no amount of preparation can prevent all potential risks of injury. With the rigorous efforts and complex movements involved, injuries will inevitably occur, both minor and severe.
There’s a multitude of causes of gymnastics-related injuries; however, the most common injuries result from weight-bearing stresses and traumatic impact. Other causes include overtraining and lack of recovery.
The following are the most common Gymnastics injuries:
- Traumatic Knee Injuries (i.e., ACL Tear)
- Achilles Tendon Rupture
- Ankle Fractures
- Labral Tears
- Sprains & Strains
Other notable injuries include shoulder dislocations and elbow separations, lower-back strain, burns and blisters, and herniated discs.
Many strategies can be implemented to help prevent such injuries. While these are not foolproof, they certainly drastically decrease the risk.
Traumatic knee injuries such as an ACL tear are unfortunately prevalent in gymnastics, especially at the elite levels. The ACL, in particular, is a knee stabilizing ligament that provides a necessary function to the joint.
An injured or torn ACL can sideline an athlete for many months and requires immediate surgery followed by a rigorous and thoughtful rehabilitation program.
Achilles Tendon Injury
The Achilles tendon is the largest tendon in the body, and it attaches the calf to the heel. Its primary function is to allow lower extremity movement via the leg and foot. As you can imagine, the consequences of injuring the Achilles tendon are severe and sometimes can be career-ending for the gymnastic athlete.
An Achilles tendon tear requires immediate surgery and months of rehabilitation. It most commonly occurs due to the overuse and constant stress and strain placed on the tendon during competition.
The ankle incurs constant impact and is often subject to stress fractures, which can sometimes be called “hairline” fractures. These can be quite painful and can take a long time to heal. Ankle fractures typically occur during the landing of a complex gymnastic maneuver.
A Labral tear is one of the most common upper extremity injuries in gymnastics. While any gymnast can experience a labral tear, they’re most common in ring and bar specialists.
In short, a labral tear is an injury to the labrum, which is the cartilage attached to the shoulder socket that ensures proper stability of the joint.
Sprains & Strains
Though less severe, sprains and strains are extremely common in gymnastics and several other sports and can develop into more severe injuries if not proactively managed.
Because of the complexities of movement, copious amounts of training, and general physical demands involved in gymnastics, sprains, and strains can occur at a moment’s notice.
The most common sprains and strains in gymnastics occur in the fingers, hand, wrist, ankles, and legs. The good news is that gymnasts can be very successful in preventing these types of minor injuries.
Injury Prevention Tips for Gymnasts
Injury prevention is the standard to achieve in this sport. While all injuries can’t be prevented, the effort to prevent as many injuries as possible is key to improving longevity within the sport. Unfortunately, many unpredictable accidents do occur in this sport.
By prioritizing physical health, you provide your bones, muscles, joints, ligaments, and tendons with the most substantial environment to perform yet remain uninjured.
Prioritizing physical health requires proactive actions, consistent exercise implementation, and rehabilitative strategies before an injury occurs. The following are the most common and effective preventative measures for gymnasts to reduce the risk of injury:
- Avoiding overtraining
- Follow rehabilitation protocols (i.e., physical therapy)
- Ensure proper techniques
- Avoid loose clothing and wear proper gymnast attire
- Wear protective gear during training (i.e., hand grips, chalk, heel pads, wrist wraps, braces)
- Rest and recover
- Use spotters
- Ensure the basic equipment safe and intact
Gymnastic injuries often don’t require surgery, but they usually require some medical attention. When injuries occur, no matter the severity, it’s important to seek treatment immediately.
Ignoring symptoms prolongs healing, increases suffering, and can result in more significant problems down the road.
Following preventive techniques can greatly reduce the risk of injury.