Keeping Your Gymnast Healthy

As a sports medicine physician and former gymnast, I think gymnastics is a beautiful and entertaining sport that also offers many benefits to young athletes. Like other sports, however, gymnastics comes with inherent risks. With the artistic world championships going on now, you are sure to see the best gymnasts in the world. Unfortunately, many of these talented athletes will have had their share of injuries.

In my clinics, I see a lot of gymnasts with injuries. Preventing injuries is important, so here are some tips to keep your gymnast healthy.

PARENTS:
• Choose a gym that puts safety first. If possible, choose a gym whose coaches are safety certified by USA Gymnastics.
• Provide a safe, healthy environment at home. Try not to over-schedule your gymnast, purchase a variety of nutritious foods and make sure your athlete gets enough sleep.

COACHES:
• Be actively involved with coaching your athletes. If you don’t know proper progressions, drills, or how to “spot,” see if someone can teach you.
• Attend clinics and learn everything you can about the sport.
• Do you have a lot of ankle injuries in your gym? Do your gymnasts complain about back pain? Talk with health professionals to learn prevention-based exercises to add to your conditioning or warm up.
• Make sure gymnasts have correct form all the time, not only when they are throwing big skills. This includes while stretching and conditioning.
• Only allow athletes to progress to a new skill or level when physically and psychologically ready.
• Have a training plan for the day, week and year. To avoid overuse injuries, consider how many numbers of each skill your athletes are doing. You need repetition to perfect a skill, but there is also something to be said for quality over quantity. For example, have your athlete do three perfect back walkovers in a row (or 8-10 maximum) rather than attempting 20 every day. Their backs will thank you (and they are less likely to end up in my clinic)!
• Encourage healthy snacking at practice.
• Make sure you have safe, up-to-date equipment.
• Pay attention to your athletes’ non-verbal cues. If they are limping, or are changing their mechanics, chances are that they are hurting. Injuries should not be ignored. Catching an injury early typically leads to quicker recovery.

ATHLETES:
• Pay attention to your coach and follow directions.
• Make sure you are mentally prepared and focused before you start.
• Warm up! Get your blood flowing, do some dynamic stretching and practice some basic skills first.
• Do your basics perfectly! Don’t just go through the motions. If you can’t do a perfect back handspring on the floor, chances are you can’t do one on the beam!
• Sleep! Growing athletes should have at least 8-9 hours every night.
• Fuel your body. Choose high-quality, nutritious foods. Gymnasts are highly active and need adequate calories to perform at their best.
• Tell your coaches or parents if something hurts or doesn’t feel right. It’s not okay to practice through pain.

If your gymnast has an injury or pain, contact our Sports Medicine department, to make an appointment call 614-355-6000.

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