Seven Top Gymnastics-Related Injuries
The Tokyo Olympics came to a close on August 8, 2021. Leading up to that point, the whole world was watching as Olympic athletes put their skills to the ultimate test. One of the fan-favorite Olympic sports is always gymnastics. As more eyes are on this highly skilled sport, more fans wonder about the safety of the athletes who pursue it.
Gymnastics is certainly an exciting sport, but it is not without its risks. The injury rate for gymnastics is similar to that of football and rugby. In fact, gymnastics has one of the highest rates of injury among women’s sports, with almost 100,000 gymnasts injured each year. The upper body is used as a weight-bearing joint in gymnastics, so injuries to the shoulder, wrist, and elbow are the most common. Examples of common injuries in gymnastics include:
- Superior labrum, anterior-posterior (SLAP) lesions in the shoulder
Superior labral anterior-posterior (SLAP) lesions are common amongst throwing athletes. In fact, repetitive overhead throwing is the primary cause of SLAP lesions in throwing athletes. Furthermore, in a study conducted by the Unit of Orthopedics and Traumatology at La Sapienza University, it was found that 44% of the shoulders of elite gymnasts had findings consistent with SLAP lesions on magnetic resonance imaging. These lesions are injuries to the glenoid labrum. The most common symptoms of SLAP lesions include a sensation of locking in the area, pain with movement of the shoulder, pain lifting objects, and a decrease in shoulder strength. Some of the best treatments for SLAP tears are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, ice, and rest.
- Elbow dislocation
A dislocated elbow happens when the bones that make up the joint are forced out of alignment. This can happen when an individual lands on an outstretched hand during a fall. The elbow is the second most commonly dislocated joint after the shoulders in adults, and it is the most commonly dislocated joint in children. Common symptoms of a dislocated elbow include pain in the elbow as well as swelling and inability to bend the arm. Some patients also lose feeling in their hands or lose the ability to feel a pulse in their wrist. Oftentimes, an elbow dislocation will be treated by putting the elbow in a splint or sling for one to three weeks. After this period, a physical therapy program with motion exercises will be recommended.
This is another injury that is quite common for gymnasts. Wrist sprains can vary from an acute or chronic pain, but symptoms tend to include pain, swelling, tenderness and warmth around the injury, tearing the wrist, bruising loss of motion, and weakness. When a gymnast, athlete, or other patient sustains this kind of injury, it is best to avoid extensive pressure on the wrist joint for six weeks. If the patient is experiencing pain even with the regular activities of daily life, it might be helpful to use a brace or cast to immobilize the wrist.
If a gymnast injures their lower body, it most commonly affects the knee or ankle. This usually happens as a result of improper landing or dismount. Some common lower-body injuries in gymnastics include:
- Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury
ACL injuries often happen in gymnastics when a gymnast lands short or is over-rotated while tumbling, dismounting, or vaulting. When this happens to a gymnast, the most telltale sign is hearing a pop followed by knee swelling. When diagnosing an ACL injury, we will typically use an MRI. ACL reconstruction is often recommended for gymnasts who want to return to operating at their fullest capacity. Other treatment options include the basic recommendations of rest, ice, compression, and elevation.
- Achilles tendon injury
Another injury that gymnasts often run into is an injury of the Achilles tendon. This is often due to the repetitive stress of jumping and landing. The symptoms of an Achilles tendon injury include pain and swelling near the heel. Another symptom is an inability to bend the foot downward. To treat an Achilles tendon injury, we often recommend resting, icing, compressing, raising the leg, taking anti-inflammatory painkillers, and practicing stretching.
- Foot and ankle injuries
Injuries to the foot and ankle are also common in gymnastics. Acute injuries to the foot and ankle can be minor or severe. The first symptoms of foot and ankle injuries are swelling, bruising, and tenderness. Ankle injuries are usually treated with rest, ice, and over-the-counter pain medication. If the strain is more severe, the patient might need braces, splints, injections, and surgery.
Gymnasts can often run into lower back injuries due to their extension movements, such as arching the shoulder backward. The first symptoms of lower back injuries include muscle strain, fractures, and ligament sprains. For gymnasts, we usually recommend rest and a specific physical therapy regimen.
What Exercises Are Good for Gymnasts?
When it comes to treating physical therapy for injured gymnasts, the type of physical therapy we suggest will depend on the severity and type of injury. For most gymnastics-related injuries, the conditioning includes targeted strengthening and a variety of sports therapy exercises that will help reduce the risk of recurring injury. If you want a team that will combine state-of-the-art technology with an unparalleled level of compassion, the team at ProFysio Physical Therapy will be by your side.
Curious about sports-related injuries or ready to relieve body pain of your own? Call ProFysio Physical Therapy at (732) 812-5200 or contact us online.