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Young Gymnasts At Risk Of Long Term Bone Problems

Posted Dec 05 2008 1:34am

A new report has highlighted the risks involved for children who practice gymnastics. Arthritis and broken bones are just two areas of concern.

X-rays of 12-16 year old athletes in America were looked at and the study revealed they were enduring joint injuries that were capable of affecting them later in life.

The report was presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America, where scientists explained that the gymnasts involved in the study portrayed a “broad constellation of recent injuries” to their knuckles and wrists as well as signs of early necrosis - otherwise known as the “death” of bones.

Jerry Dwek who led the research at the University of California, San Diego said, “We were surprised to be looking at injuries every step down the hand all the way from the radius to the small bones in the wrist and on to the ends of the finger bones at the knuckles. These types of injuries are likely to develop into early osteoarthritis.”

Research in the past has already indicated that gymnastics is as risky as contact sports. Of 10,000 children doing gymnastics every year, 52 will have an injury, compared with 75 youth rugby players.

Doctors are concerned that children have a lot of pressure put on them to do well from parents, which could contribute to injuries. Sammy Margo, a chartered physiotherapist from northwest London, said, “Twenty years ago, 1 per cent of my patients were children. Now it’s more like 20 per cent. I do see many children suffering gymnastics injuries. I’m also seeing something I never saw 20 years ago — children with lower-back problems. Some  parents are pushing their children into intensive training.”

The scans of the children revealed evidence of necrosis, chronic stress injuries and cartilage tears around a number of joints and bones. Dr Dwek feels more research is required, “It is possible that by changing the way that practice routines are performed, we might be able to limit stress on the joints and on delicate growing bones,” he commented.

Matthew Greenwood, performance and technical director for British Gymnastics, said,

Performance and technical director for British Gymnastics, Matthew Greenwood said,“We have become more aware of the importance of fitness and safety in recent years, and we are careful not to risk long-term injury by over training.”

Changes being introduced to tackle the problem include foam mats and low-impact trampolines. In addition, the minimum age required to compete will rise from 16 to 17 next year.

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