Children and Adolescents
Now that your child wants to join his or her friends in gymnastics, what concerns should you have about injuries? Although children benefit physically, mentally, and socially from participating in this activity, they can develop injuries if they train too hard. Any part of the body can be injured if it is used too much. in gymnasts, the most common overuse injuries involve the shoulders, elbows, wrists, back, and ankles.
In gymnastics, participants must develop flexibility, balance, and strength. The most successful gymnasts are those who are naturally flexible. However, exercising those naturally flexible joints too much, especially the shoulders, can make them become too loose. The ligaments, or tissue that holds bones together, can be stretched to the point that they no longer hold the bones in the correct position. For example, if the ligaments in your shoulder are stretched too much, they will not hold the arm in its socket when you move it certain ways. This allows your shoulder to dislocate, or come out of joint. Dislocation can lead to serious injuries. To prevent dislocation of any joint, you need to strengthen the muscles surrounding that joint. When the muscles are strong, they will hold the joint together, even if the ligaments are stretched.
Back bends and other activities that cause the spine to curve backward can cause fractures of the spine in young gymnasts (5 to 7 years old). These fractures do not cause problems at that young age and may go unnoticed for years. However, teenagers who remain active in gymnastics may develop back pain because of these earlier fractures. Teenage gymnasts may need bracing or surgery to treat the fractures. A good way to prevent this injury is to not allow children to do deep back bends until they are at least 7 years old.
Activities such as vaulting and tumbling may cause the wrist to hyperextend, or bend back too far. The bones of the wrist are forced back to the point of hitting the bones of the forearm. Having this happen over and over causes the wrist to become sore so that these activities are painful. Gymnasts may wear splints on their wrists during such activities to prevent their wrists from being forced backward so far.
Only in gymnastics do athletes bear all their weight on their arms. Handstands, vaulting, and other activities place tremendous pressure on the elbows. The pressure can damage the joints and cause the contact surfaces to become soft or weak. The damaged areas may or may not be painful at first, but a piece of the bone or hardened cartilage may break loose in the joint. if the problem is detected before the piece comes loose, the athlete is told to rest and limit training activities. If the loose piece causes pain or causes the joint to catch, it is usually removed during surgery. The damaged surface of the bone can lead to problems in later life, like arthritis or joint degeneration.
During dismounts and landings, gymnasts can sprain their ankles or develop stress fractures, which are fractures that occur slowly from repetitive trauma and that cause a weak spot in the bone. Ankle sprains re first treated with splinting and rest. Next, athletes strengthen the muscles round the ankle, and then they study heir landing techniques with their aches so changes can be made. Stress fractures are usually treated by having the athlete rest and avoid hard and landings on the affected leg.
When gymnasts train on one apparatus or in one activity continuously during a training session, they lose some concentration and tend to get injured more often. During long training sessions, gymnasts should change their activities and equipment many times to prevent injuries.
With proper supervision and conditioning, most of these young athletes will be able to enjoy participating in gymnastics for many years.
[Source: Ellen M. Raney, M.D., Tampa, Florida, Hughston Health Alert]