Gymnastics is a sport that requires high levels of dedication and perseverance. Professional gymnasts display great flexibility and athleticism which are not developed without certain adverse effects to the body over time. As well as risk of injury from falling when performing a move, gymnasts also experience higher risks of back pain due to repeat impacts when landing or pushing off from the ground.
Types of Pain
Intense gymnastics training can cause a range of back complications, and often the cumulative effects of the sport can cause early-onset degenerative problems in the spine. However, many pains that gymnasts experience are relatively minor. Repetitive strain injuries are common, the result of learning new movements and practicing them repeatedly until they are fully memorized. Mild pains can also be caused by tight muscles due to improper warm-up at the beginning of a practice.
High-intensity training can, however, result in more serious, long-term spinal problems. The intense nature of gymnastics means that almost all gymnasts are at a greater risk of spinal injuries and accelerated structural degeneration. They are likely to suffer more extreme forms of degenerative disc disease, and in rare instances, vertebral listhesis (slipped discs). Spinal osteoarthritis is also often found in gymnasts in their late teens, several decades before it is observed in members of the general public. This is caused by the fact that their spines are frequently exposed to high levels of force resulting in a breakdown of the body's protective measures, such as loss of synovial fluid which reduces friction in the spine. Furthermore, due to this continual pressure on the spine, lumbar spondylolysis, or stress fractures, are very common among gymnasts.
While gymnastics can cause severe damage to the back over time there are preventitive measures that should be closely observed to reduce the risk of developing problems. The most important step towards avoiding injury is to make sure that gymnasts go through a proper warm-up and stretching routine before any practice session to reduce the risk of muscle soreness and injury. Stretches are necessary to increase flexibility so there is less likelihood of pulling a muscle. In the same vein, every workout should end with a cool-down and conditioning time. While stretching is essential, gymnasts should also listen to their bodies and know when to relax, so as not to strain the muscles.
The effects of heavy impacts in gymnastics can be lessened somewhat by using the proper safety equipment. Ensuring the correct safety mats are used can reduce the force with which gymnasts hit the floor while keeping all apperatus in perfect working condition will minimise the risk of accidents. Spotting gymnasts who are learning new techniques will also prevent accidental falls.
Some back problems may be unavoidable, even with preventitive measures and in these cases treatment may become necessary. Physical therapy can be effective for muscle-related issues, and many physiotherapists use the Active Release Technique to treat such injuries. This technique involves applying tension to the affected area to increase blood low, release scar tissue, and restore proper motion.
David Spinner is the director of Rehabilitation Medicing. For more information book a consultation at (212) PAIN-DOC (212) 724-6362 or here.