Gymnastics is a sport involving a full range of motion and it sometimes has the gymnast contorting their body in such a way that you don’t see how they can do the things that they do. Such incredible movements can take its toll on the human body, however, which can lead to some serious injury.
Gymnasts are some of the strongest athletes in the whole world and are conditioned in such way, that they are in constant threat of suffering from a whole host of different injuries which can damage their spines and can cause them back or neck pain.
Back pain is actually one of the most common injuries known to gymnasts and it is often caused by some form of spinal damage and the inability to perform properly in the gym. If a gymnast is not properly controlling the lumbar area of their spine, or cannot do their bridges just right by extending their backs properly, then a gymnast may twist or contort their body in such a way that they create extra stress on their spine.
This is all due to the nature of the movements that gymnasts usually take with their constant contortion and twisting of their body. Gymnasts are in one of those unique positions that, while they’re moving in the air, their spines can become out of place which could cause different ligaments to become damaged.
Types Of Back Injuries
To provide more details here, injuries in young athletes is something that can come from repetitive movements in the human body particularly when there are twisting or bending motions involved, and this causes the body to stretch in some unnatural ways. When the body is too fatigued for proper movement, you actually increase the risk of lower back injury.
There are various types of injuries that cause back pain or spinal stress on the human body, and no matter how strong and flexible a gymnast is, there is always the chance that they can cause serious injury to themselves. It can happen during any time of the training process, and these injuries might be acute or slowly developing conditions resulting from repeated stress.
Ligaments and tendon injuries are pretty common among gymnasts, and these types of injuries actually heal pretty fast over time, but then there are some pretty big muscular injuries which could require surgery, especially if a disc comes torn or detached, and there could be lasting consequences that could cause or contribute to back pain.
The bones in the lower back, or the lumbar vertebrae, are actually much more susceptible to damage during common gymnast movements, especially in young adults. The cause of most spine injuries is usually a somersault of some kind and the landings, and if a gymnast does not dismount properly on a hard surface this could lead to spinal trauma.
There is a thin segment of vertebral bone known as Spondylolysis and this segment can get a lateral fracture. This type of fracture is usually caused when a gymnasts overextends their back.
Herniated discs are damaged discs in the lumbar spine. While these are originally pretty elastic and they surround the center of the spinal column, they can become damaged due to repeated trauma in the back, and this can actually cause a herniated disc.
When this segment is misaligned, it can cause the nucleus of the disc to bulge outward, and this puts a little too much pressure on the nerves of the spinal cord. It is medically referred to as a slipped vertebral apophysis and it is a condition resulting from rigorous training.
When the vertebrae becomes broken, you’re going to need to seek professional medical attention or be evaluated by a sports physician with medical training, because herniated discs may not be as painful, but these types of herniations could have lasting effects on how well you function as a gymnast.
Another factor to look out for is curvature of your spine on one side or the other, which is known as scoliosis. This type of bend can actually create back pain. There was actually a survey done on 100 girls, ages 11-15, and they were pretty active during their training – performing different types of stunts or movements – for 5 years, and it was found that their incidence of scoliosis was five times higher than when compared to the average adult gymnast.
Another cause of lower back pain is known as disc degeneration, which affects the lumbar discs or any discs of your spine. This is actually a degenerative disease or syndrome as it is something where you usually only feel the pain whenever you are twisting your lower back, or when you are trying to rotate or grab something off of a shelf, and the pain can increase if you do these type of movements pretty frequently.
Even if you don’t experience a traumatic injury to your spine while you are practicing gymnastics, you can still create an incredible stress on your spine over time. This extreme tension of the spine will lead to back pain as well.
Degenerative disc disease is a pretty common thing among gymnasts, with various degrees from mild to severe. Mid-to-low degeneration of spinal discs cause damage which is expected in most gymnasts, since they are asked to bend and flex their entire back bones when they perform.
Spinal osteoarthritis is another thing that can cause back pain and it is due to repeated stress or wear and tear which intensify the spine’s aging process. This accelerates the growth of something called osteophytes, which leads to the loss of synovial fluid in the spinal column.
Perhaps one of the greatest contributors to lower back pain is known as lumbopelvic rhythm. This is something that affects the lower part of the spine, also known as the lumbar spine, when you bend forward from a standing position and when your hips flex.
If the muscles that control your lumbar spine are weak, then the weight of your body can actually overload your muscles and cause enough strain to create back pain. This is important to know, because gymnasts require extreme flexibility in order to perform well in their sport.
This is why it is important to focus on the lumbar area and to do pelvic work correctly and in unison with other muscles of the spine. There is a little something called pelvic crossed syndrome, which occurs when your back or hips flex too tightly and your abdominal muscles or gluteal muscles are worn down or fatigued which could radiate pain into your lower back some.
How To Treat Different Back Injuries
There are a variety of ways to treat back injuries. As soon as you think that a back injury has occurred, the first thing that you should do is to stop all of your gymnastic activities and seek a doctor. You may even need to see an orthopaedic specialist to examine the extent of your injuries.
This type of doctors are usually qualified in evaluating specific types of injuries, like damage to your spine which is caused by different movements. The crucial knowledge that these experts have can allow you to participate in gymnastic events much more safely so that you don’t repeat the previous movements that cause back pain injuries.
Medication for pain relief might be given to you, and back brace may even need to be worn for support in some cases. Another way to help manage your back injuries is through physical therapy. Most damage to the muscles do not require too much concern or intervention, but it may require some physical therapy to resolve them.
One of the worst case scenarios is that some soft tissues could be affected and may need some aggressive treatments, such as surgery. If you are experiencing spinal injury, you will definitely need to have therapy afterwards.
Any fractures that you obtained will need to be monitored, as well as any protrusions that require special attention. Once a gymnast has fully recovered, they should actually continue to seek out a specialist that deals with sports medicine to help them get back on the right path in their competitive career.
When it comes to spinal degeneration, it is actually a little bit more complicated since this type of damage can be more severe. If your nerves become affected from the damage around your spine, you may need to also go to a neurologist that focuses on sports medicine for advice.
For minor back sprains, however, all you might have to do is to apply hot packs and cold packs by turns. The cold packs will help with the swelling which in turn will cut back some on the pain, while the hot packs will be soothing and will help your blood go more to that area to make any needed repairs in the muscles that have been injured.
How To Prevent Back Injuries
In order to prevent back pain, gymnasts should fully understand the techniques that they are about to execute. Usually gymnasts tend to be injured during the learning process while developing new routines and skills.
This is why it is important to understand the types of risks that you are going to take while you are learning new movements on the training mats. This will help you to grow and mature as a gymnast.
One thing that you should always do is to warm up and stretch before every workout that you have.
When you are conditioning your body and joints, you should cool down after every workout in order to have a proper end to your sessions. One major points here is that hyperextension or hyperflexion of the spine is actually what causes back pain. Therefore, make sure that your spine is stretched properly, but not overstretched during your warmups.
If you want to avoid injuries as a gymnast, make sure you get a coach or some sort of trainer that can offer you advice on proper techniques that you’ll need in order to execute or perform the moves safely. Another thing to look out for is that while you are training you should make sure that you increase the amount of weight on your body gradually so that you’re not adding too much stress to any one part of your back at a given time.
One of the more common issues for gymnasts is that they don’t have very good overhead mobility. To be precise, this involves a gymnast’s ability to get their arms to reach over their own heads using their lower back to assist them while they are also allowing their shoulder blades to move to support their movements as well as widening their hands as they reach.
Not having the right amount of over head mobility is something that can cause a strained back if the gymnast does certain moves anyway. To tell whether a gymnast can perform proper overhead mobility properly there is a simple test that they can do.
One way to know that you probably don’t have a very good overhead reach if you know that you are prone to do a lot of kipping while they are reaching, and this usually involves you kicking their legs alternately as if you were trying to “bicycle” yourself up into the air.
To help fix this problem, you should get onto a bar with an underhand grip and stretch your chest as much as you can while you are on the bar. Keep doing this regularly and see if you can make some progress with your reach. Now, sometimes if a gymnast has poor overhead mobility, then this might means that their soft tissues are not fully developed yet, so in this case you should take it really nice and slow.
A gymnast’s hips can actually become stiff due to some of these soft tissue restrictions, and this in turn will affect the spine to some degree. You can usually see this when their quadriceps or hip flexors become unbalanced or their legs are not able to become fully straight when they’re executing their forms on the mats.
So, as you can see, even your hip mobility can affect your back or lumbar spine if it is not flexible enough for you to execute bridges or to support the extension of your back when performing overhead reaches. Basically, it is important for your whole body as a gymnast to be as fit as possible.
Your shoulders can also affect your spine, as can your legs since if you land wrong on your feet you can quite possible sprain your back just as easily as you can sprain your ankle, or you may even sprain both at the same time.
All of this means that a gymnast should focus on core exercises that also involve their hips into their legs and their shoulders into their hands. It may take years of dedicated practice for them to perfect this, but athletes that can do this and master the basics will be able to perform bridges and hyperextensions with great ease and proper skill in such a way they are able to effectively prevent back pain.
Screening Tests For Back Pain Detection
Sometimes, if you have one of the degenerative spine diseases, it is actually possible that you might have a spinal problem without knowing it. Not matter what you situation is, it is far better to catch these things as early on as possible so that you can do something about them. These tests are also a great way to keep your spine flexible safely.
The first one of these is the upright extension or rotation loading test which is to help you see if the structure along your posterior spine is a problem or not. In order to do this, you need to stand up and rotate your torso, then extend it in one direction with far reaching hands.
While you are doing this, touch the back of your knee, and then you will need to repeat this on the other side. Always make sure to move through this in a full range of motion and pause as needed to see if you feel any pain on one side or both sides of your back.
The Seal position is another this type of test, and this movement is pretty well-known when it comes to gymnastics and can be used to detect if there’s any pain in the spine. It is also known as the cat type stretch, and the gymnast needs to press up into a seal position. Once done, they need to turn and look over each of their shoulders as they shift their weight from one side to the other.
Flexed or extension compressor tests help you to see if there are compressive forces that are making a problem worse in your lumbar spine. The gymnast should be seated on the edge of a chair and needs to grab the sides of the chair in order to pull themselves down into it.