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Fitness & Sports

Gymnastics: Injury, Prevention, Treatment – A Brief Overview

In every sport–not just gymnastics–there stands the risk of injury, no matter how adept or flexible your gymnast happens to be. The sport requires a lot of psychological and physical preparation, in part because it is extremely rigorous, and in part because it demands a higher level of skill than most other sports. The complexity that routines entail increases the risk of painful injury and fatigue if proper preparations are not taken to ensure all-around safety.

The most common injuries to the body are those to the ankles and feet, the lower back, knees, hands, and wrists. These can be due to overuse or simple stress. The lower body injuries are generally because of unbalanced landings, while the back experiences strain when insufficient stretching has been performed. Scrapes and bruises are to be expected, even if your gymnast is properly attired — so simply be prepared. Any injury to a gymnast’s body can be detrimental to his or her performance in the future.
Stiffness can result from lack of use of a limb or of the back if he or she is put out of the game for too long–that is, if the injury is serious. For the most part, as a parent, you will have to deal with less serious injuries (hopefully), and you will not need to visit the doctor’s office to have them treated.

In any case, the best course of action is indeed prevention. The standard safety measures in any sport are simple and easily implemented, most especially for gymnastics.

First, you will want to make sure that your gymnast wears the proper clothing. If he or she has long hair, tie it back, braid it, or otherwise secure it. Do not allow them to wear clothing that is too loose or baggy and conducive to tripping; the same goes for socks and shoes – nothing that will cause them to slide on a nonporous surface. Remove all jewelry. Rings, for instance, can be caught on swelling fingers if one is sprained. Earrings can be torn from earlobes or carteliage in a mishap.Then, make sure that you and your gymnast takes stock of the surroundings. Wires from equipment can trip or cut; running into poles or other gymnasts can be a disaster. To trip on a mat that is higher than the current surface might be painful.

Next, have them warm up. Warmups are vital to any sport, and every gymnast, whether they are a preschooler or a professional, should do them before starting any strenuous activity. This includes jogging, speed walking, and stretching — anything to get the blood moving and the heart pumping. Believe it or not, a good stretch decreases the risk of a strained or pulled muscle, and it actually feels good. If you’re training with your young gymnast at home or otherwise on your own time, it’s advisable to be a
good role model and join them in their warm-ups. Turn on some music and move too. It’s a triple plus: you’ll be showing her or him how to properly warm up, that you are interested in what they are doing, and you will be getting your heart rate going strong too.

When your gymnast is out on the floor, make sure that he or she takes breaks for water frequently. Hydration is key to good health. If he or she is sweating profusely, dehydration is possible, and that too can be a disaster waiting in the wings.

Beyond all of the hazards of gymnastics, there is treatment for any injuries received. Of course, if your gymnast is injured severely, a doctor visit might be the best idea — or even the emergency room. However, that is simply common sense. On the other hand, if your child is not injured severely, you may wish to take care of him or her yourself.But whatever you decide to do, please understand I am not a doctor and you should always consult your family doctor if you have any problems or concerns.

For sprains, strains, bumps and bruises, you should use ice for the first twenty four hours. Ice cubes in a plastic bag with a facecloth or a hand towel wrapped around the bag itself is sufficient if you do not have a medical ice pack. Never place ice directly against skin – and never ice for more than twenty to thirty minutes at a time.

Three or four times in the first day after the injury should be sufficient. After that, gentle heat compresses will help to relax any muscle spasms or pain that isn’t taken care of with some kind of pain reliever (consult a doctor before giving your gymnast ANY medication).

Hopefully, you’ll never have to deal with injuries — but remember, prevention is better than anything else. Keep this in mind and be safe.

Good luck!

Murray Hughes