Most of us know about repetitive stress injuries – in fact most of us have actually experienced them. Athletes are the most likely to experience the injuries because they place higher physical demands on their bodies than the average person, and unfortunately, because athletes must rely on healthy bodies for their careers and recreational activities, they are also the least likely to treat these injuries properly. Gymnasts are no exception.
Gymnastics is unique in its use of the upper body as a weight bearing mechanism, rather than the lower body exclusively. Many gymnastics injuries result in the upper body: shoulders, elbows, and wrists. While the pain resulting in injuries to these parts of the body should be enough to slow anyone down and give themselves the time they need to heal, try telling that to a gymnast. The goal of the athlete, and many sports medicine practitioners, is to get back to the sport as quickly as possible. Too often we’re told to work through the pain, to lean into it, or push past it. This is just bad medicine.
No gymnast expects to be on the bars or rings when they’re 60, but how they go about practicing their sport now will have an impact on their quality of life 10, 20, even 50 years from now. Proactive measures during practice and competition are the frontline of defense, but once a repetitive stress injury is detected and diagnosed, only a conservative approach to healing will allow the gymnast to return to performance in a long-term, meaningful way.
This article isn’t about medical approaches, but rather about helping gymnasts recognize the need for self-care. We’ve seen and admired many athletes, especially in Olympic venues, who actually do perform through disabling injuries, but at what cost? Certainly we don’t expect an Olympian to give up easily during the Games, but as a young person learning the skills in a gym or competing at a local or university level, it’s imperative to think in the long term. Parents of young gymnasts can be formative in how the kids view pain, endurance, and self-care.
Be aware of common repetitive stress injuries that are linked to gymnastics and give yourself or your children the necessary encouragement and time to heal.