The body control, the elegant motion, the confidence of a competitive gymnast is just stunning. I find myself in awe and with a mild to moderate degree of envy. And yet, this level of movement mastery may be coming at too high of a price.
Tumbling, bounding, swinging from a bar and landing on your feet all come with risk of injury. Over 27,000 kids get hurt each year in gymnastics severely enough to end up in the emergency room although a lot of people tend to think of gymnastics as more of an activity than a sport. But the incidence of injury in gymnastics is about the same as ice hockey. Researchers have known for a long time that the incidence of spine pain and even fracture in female gymnasts is very high and many women suffer with a variety of aches and pains for the rest of their life. But now it looks as though there's a new kind of problem plaguing young gymnasts.
Gymnasts now are injuring a bone, breaking it actually, that forms part of the wrist joint according to a study by the Radiological Society of North America. And because in many youngsters these bones have not fully matured, when the injury heals it stunts the growth of the bone. This leads to a malformed wrist and increases the likelihood of arthritis at an early age and surgery later on to correct the malformation. But, in some cases, the bone doesn't heal. It dies which is called necrosis. This condition requires surgery and usually some type of fusion of the wrist bones.
I understand competition, winning and training to win. But, something must be going on here to cause this new type of injury and most likely it's the coaching and training techniques.
Injuries are a part of life and, as an adult, you have a choice. But, as a kid, you depend on adults to help you make the right choices and clearly, we're failing. Kids want to please us, perform up to our expectations. The adults are in charge. We're responsible.
Coaches and trainers must step up and take ownership of this problem. You're the agents of a young gymnasts' life. Pay attention to your athletes and if they complain of wrist pain, get the help they need and then, re-assess what you're asking these kids to do.
As a 19 year veteran coach I can tell you where these wrist injuries are coming from. More and more gymnast are doing more and more back handsprings at younger and younger ages on balance beam. The injuries do not always manifest themselves on the beam but it does not take much pressure to put the wrist at risk when the gymnast lands with one or both hands partially off of the beam. This is particularly true when the fingers are on the beam but palm below the wrist is not. One wrong hand placement and the gymnast may only feel a slight pain but they may have already caused an injury that with the pounding of tumbling and pressure on the wrist in vaulting, sometimes at severe angles, shows up there when it may be too late. Many coaches over look the need to do allot of wrist and hand strength exercises all through out a gymnast's career and just at the higher levels.