Gymnastics is a beautiful sport which requires precision, grace, flexibility, strength, fearlessness, and power. Gymnasts often work for weeks or months to perfect one particular movement or skill. They have to learn how to harness their power and balance that with making it look graceful and effortless.
Not only are gymnasts using their own bodies for their sport, but there are many types of forms of gymnastics. Some disciplines require equipment as part of the performance. Equipment poses its own risks due to failure or simply the physics of a piece of stationary equipment that the gymnast can land on wrong or fall off of at times.
Much time is spent in gymnastics learning how to land or fall properly to avoid serious injury. Falls are inevitable and it is fascinating to watch a gymnast fall repeatedly attempting a new skill and then when they finally obtain the right muscle memory and nail it, the satisfaction is obvious.
Traumatic injuries such as fractures and ligament tears usually occur because of a very forceful impact if the gymnast either lands wrong or falls.
Overuse injuries such as tendonitis in any extremity or stress fractures in the bones of the arms, legs, or back can occur. This is because the skills have to be repeated thousands of times and there can be repetitive stress in one particular area of the body.
Tips for prevention:
Warm ups and stretching are crucial; attempting new things if you aren’t stretched out properly can lead to injury
Making sure you always have a spotter and mats to absorb a fall for a new skill and use specialized training equipment for dangerous skills that are new
Always work on flexibility and make sure you are working on both sides. There will always be one side of the body that is slightly more flexible or agile, but as much balance as possible is very important
Gymnasts often use a great deal of mental preparation; they employ a lot of visualization techniques. It is important to “see” the skill in your mind. This forms important neural connections from the brain to the body and helps to plan the movement, perform it fully, and helps avoid bailing out when something doesn’t feel right. These memories we form from the brain to the muscle is what creates muscle memory and allows the gymnast to come to a point where they can practically perform the movement without really “thinking” about it. It becomes natural and easy. But never let your guard down especially when fatigue sets in.
Acro-gymnastics, also known as sports acrobatics, is a gymnastics discipline in which the gymnasts work in pairs or groups. The sport hails from the former Soviet Union. The only equipment utilized is one another and the mat. The gymnasts perform routines set to music and perform dance, tumbling, and skills that require balance, throwing, and catching. There are five categories in sports acrobatics. There are women’s pairs, men’s pairs, women’s trios, mixed pairs, and men’s fours. The benefit of this type of gymnastics is that you don’t have to be petite! Taller males and females make up the “base” of the pair or group and the tops are the smallest.
From the time I was 10 to the age of 20 I was an acro-gymnast. I was always part of a women’s pair and spent my entire career paired with one of two young ladies. I was privileged to perform on local and regional levels as a young gymnast and then participated on national and international teams as I progressed in the sport. In 1990 my partner and I were the national champions for women’s pairs and we placed 6th in the World Competition that year. I elected to retire in 1991 and pursue my goal of becoming a physician. My wonderful coach of 11 years is still coaching a team in my home state of Louisiana. He was and is still such a successful coach because he utilizes all of the techniques discussed above to make his athletes successful and help them avoid injuries.
Although my practice is primarily focused on adults, there are some particular injuries that a physiatrist may evaluate. Stress injuries to the lower lumbar spinal vertebrae or herniated lumbar discs are the most common injuries we see. These are typically due to overuse injuries and can benefit in many cases from nonsurgical care.
Dr. Michelle Perez is a board-certified physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist (also known as a physiatrist) at Resurgens Orthopaedics serving the Acworth, Canton, Kennesaw, and Woodstock communities. She specializes in non-surgical care of spine conditions and injuries.