Sports Medicine Gymnastics and Injury: How to Stay Safe By Sports Medicine, March 11, 2017 About Gymnastics Injuries Millions of youth participate in gymnastics every year in the United States, at a variety of levels of skill and competition. As a sport, gymnastics builds strength, balance, and flexibility, but it also has an injury rate similar to sports such as hockey and soccer. RELATED: Why Do Our Bodies Swell? Upper Body Injuries in Gymnastics Gymnastics places exceptional stress on joints, especially to the upper body. Events like the vault, rings, and bars, tumbling, and other advanced skills can leave shoulders, wrists, and elbows vulnerable to injury. Injuries might include: Ligament sprains/tears of the shoulder, elbow or wrist Growth plate injuries in skeletally immature athletes Joint dislocations of the shoulder, elbow or wrist fractures Tendon strains Common Lower Body Injuries in Gymnastics Hard landings, over rotating, and the repetitive stress of jumping and landing can lead to lower body injuries for gymnasts. RELATED: 5 Easy Lower Body Exercises Injuries to the tendons or ligaments in knee, like the patella tendon or the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), can require surgery, rehabilitation, and significant time away from their sport. Gymnasts also experience ankle and foot sprains, which can range from very minor to severe. Repeated injuries of this kind can be serious and should be addressed with a physician. RELATED: Preventing ACL Injuries Back Injuries Common Among Gymnasts As gymnasts bend their backs, muscles, tendons, and bones are stressed. Common back injuries in gymnasts include: Muscle strain Sprained ligaments Spinal fractures Disc disorders Despite the risk of these injuries, long-term lower back pain for gymnasts is not common. Safety in Gymnastics: Injury Prevention Every year, many young people perform gymnastics without injury. Here are a few tips to help young gymnasts: Get expert coaching. Your coach should be well-versed in gymnastic safety practices and provide appropriate instructions for progressing skills and proper supervision. Listen to your body. Your body sends pain signals to indicate something is wrong. Rather than try to push through, give your body time to rest and recuperate. Warm up, cool down, and stretch properly. Ensure that all equipment is properly functioning, maintained and used as intended. People trained in first aid should be available at all gymnastics events and practices. “Many Olympic and elite athletes routinely participated in gymnastics as children and attribute this to their success, even if they are athletes in other sports,” said S. Josh Szabo, MD, sports medicine orthopaedic surgeon who sees patients at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex. “Gymnastics develops strength, body awareness, balance, and flexibility that enhance athletic performance for any sport. In countries such as China and Russia, children regularly participate in gymnastics as core physical fitness for this reason,” he said. If you experience a gymnastics injury, seeking care from a sports medicine professional can help you prevent more serious injuries and get back into the gym safely. To learn more about UPMC Sports Medicine, or to schedule an appointment, visit UPMCSportsMedicine.com or call 1-855-93-SPORT (77678).