Gymnastics is a beautiful sport in which you must be strong, elegant, and above all flexible. Gymnasts use their entire body to both compete and as a part of their daily training, so this means naturally that the entire body is always at risk.
The knee is a pivotal point in the body which connects the strongest bone, the thigh bone, to the calf bone. This being the case, it absorbs a lot of shock in our day to day lives as is but especially so when it comes to gymnastics.
One of the main things that gymnasts have to focus on is ‘sticking the landing’ at the end of pretty much all of their routines. In order to stick the landing, the gymnast has to plant both feet hard on the ground upon first impact without doing anything extra to stabilize their balance, all while keeping their whole body as straight as possible.
This means that the muscles in the thighs, knees, and calves are all put under enormous pressure. This pressure breeds injury, especially for a gymnast’s knees. These injuries particular could be the effect of a variety of causes. These include but are not limited to:
- Osgood Schlatter’s Disease
- Patellar Tendonitis
- ligament tears
- tendon injuries
- cartilage breakage
- bone fractures
Osgood Schlatter’s disease is a condition that is actually fairly common in adolescent gymnasts who are still growing. This condition is caused by the fact that the body is still growing, and when put under strain this growth can and does open the body up to a greater degree to what are more commonly referred to as growing pains.
In children and adolescents, growth plates are flat planes of cartilage near joints which haven’t yet hardened into bone. The growth plate directly under the knee and above the shin is called the tibial tubercle. It feels like a bony bump and is a crucial focal point in the leg.
This point is connected to the patellar tendon, which then connects to the quadriceps or thigh muscle. Since the thigh muscle is used so much in gymnastics to spring into the air, and to stick landings, this could very well be what is the cause of this knee pain.
If the tibial tubercle is inflamed to the point where you can press down on it slightly and this causes pain, this is likely what is the cause of the aforementioned knee pain. This area is susceptible to inflammation simply because it is cartilage, and not as strong as bone quite yet.
While if this is serious enough it can warrant a trip to the doctor, in most cases all that is needed is for the young gymnast to give their knee a break and maybe put on ice pack on it and take something to help with the inflammation. Though growing pains can be painful, it is something that will have to be grown out of.
Patellar Tendonitis is something that is also known as Jumper’s knee and it is a similar condition in which the tendon attaching the kneecap to the tibial tubercle becomes inflamed. Both patellar tendonitis and Osgood Schlatter’s disease are liable to gradually worsen if a break from gymnastics is not taken, so rest is definitely recommended on the road to recovery.
Another common injury happening in the knees for many gymnasts and athletes alike is a torn anterior cruciate ligament, more commonly called a torn ACL. This is the ligament which connects the thigh bone to the shin bone, and injuries here are more often than not paired with a torn meniscus, which is a C-shaped strip of cartilage which acts as a shock absorber.
Sometimes the only option for healing these injuries is surgery. The surgery would consist of the surgeon grafting tissue from the patient’s patellar tendon, which was spoken on up above. Usually after this surgery, the gymnast is back at it after resting and recovering in as little a few weeks as long as they take things slow and easy at first and after they get the green light from their doctor.
On the other hand, sometimes knee injuries can be quite serious, since it is quite possible to actually break your knee cap. This sort of injury is something that will take a long time to heal and depending on the severity of the broken knee it is something that may never heal to be just as it was before.
However, for the less serious injuries such as sprains and things that can make your knee hurt, usually the best remedy is ice packs and some mild pain medicine paired with plenty of rest. Sometime when the cold pack is alternated with hot packs you can get good results.
Methods To Ease Pain And Prevent Knee Injuries
If you have suffered almost any form of a knee injury in the past, or if you want to avoid this as much as you possibly can, then there are certain things that you can do to help. For example, doing a simple quadriceps stretch is a great way to help ease some of the tension that might be in your knee and, therefore, also can ease some of the pain.
This exercise is done by standing up straight and then holding on to something for balance with the hand on the opposite side of your injured knee. Once you are in position, lift the afflicted leg behind the knee and up to the buttocks, and then grab the top of the foot and stretching the quadriceps as much as is comfortable for you to do.
This exercise focuses on reducing pain and swelling by stretching the connected muscles, thus releasing tension in both muscles and ligaments alike. Although this is the main stretch that can be used to free up these groups of muscles, the reverse of this stretch is something that can be done as well after this one.
In order to do this second part, you would have to be sitting on the floor sitting with your afflicted leg straight and the other leg bent in a v shape, with this foot resting on the thigh. By reaching out and touching the toes of the straight leg, the hamstrings can allow the tension they have in turn accumulated from the first stretch be released.
Now, a final massage to ease away any more unwanted tension is something that you can easily do in order to finish up, rubbing in a circular motion. Some methods for preventing this overall knee distress in the first place can be as easy as dedicating more time to warming up and cooling down for starters.
Recreational stretching practices like yoga can be a great tool for flexibility, balance, and breath-work alike. Yoga will also help a gymnast strengthen their core, which makes for stronger connections and it is something that lessens the risk of injury happening in the first place.
Yoga Poses For Gymnasts
One yoga pose which does a great job of stretching the knees in particular is called the ‘bound angle pose’. This is a simple pose that you do by sitting flat on the ground in a cross-legged position at first. Then, unfold your feet and place them flat together so that the sole of one foot is as flat as possible up against the sole of the other foot.
Once there, use your hands to keep them together and wiggle your knees up and down at your sides. This stretches your quadriceps, your thighs especially, and it loosens up the knees.
A great pose to stretch the obliques is called the ‘revolved head of the knee pose’. For this one you also start by sitting on the floor but with one leg straight out and the other in a v shape. The sole of the bent leg should be resting on the inner thigh of the straight leg.
Next, you will want to extend the hand on the opposite side of the straight leg directly above your head and complete an arch to touch your toes. While this is being done, take the other hand and place it calmly on the thigh of the knee bent in a v shape. This should be done both ways for maximum effect.
Another wonderfully relieving pose is called the ‘extended triangle pose’. This one start off with you standing in a starfish formation, which is where your legs and arms all radiating directly from the center. Your feet should be about two to three shoulder-widths apart and your arms need to be horizontal.
By bending your spine sideways and touching your toes with the hand on the same side while simultaneously reaching the other hand directly above you, an enormous amount of pressure can be released. On top of that, turning the neck so that the face is toward the sky also releases a lot of pressure in the neck.
Oblique stretches in general are good for the entire body because the obliques support the spine. Each oblique leads to the quadriceps muscles which in turn connect to the knees through ligaments and tendons.
If an area of the obliques is tense, that discomfort can sometimes be felt all the way down in the knees. It is important and extremely crucial to stretch the core and the back, because this is the foundation of the human system of basic movement.
A final pose to stretch the quads, groin, knees, and back is called the ‘garland pose’. This pose is basicallya squat with the feet at a simple shoulder-width part. For this one the knees point out away from each other naturally, then bring your hands together in a prayer position and with your elbows resting slightly on your knees.
By keeping your back and spine as symmetrically straight as possible, the entire body keeps itself in a sort of stretched relaxation. Yoga is a great way to keep the muscles flexible, and to allow them to have as much room as possible for expansion and growth, without the risk of ripping them due to stagnation. After stretching, strength training is a very beneficial way to strengthen the muscles and keep up with their endurance and growth.
Strength training is a great method that can be used by any gymnast to assist in strengthening any part of their body, including their knees. This will also be something that can push them to the next level in their athletic prowess. However, a warm-up and cool-down period is still necessary when weight training, since repetition of the aforementioned injuries would not be beneficial in any way.
Also, it is essential to take it slow and to not push yourself too far when you are strength training, since over-exertion can easily cause injury as well. Knowing your equipment and taking the time to use it correctly and on the correct muscle groups is essential to growth.
Some people may use a machine in the gym in a way that spreads the focus of the workout to more muscles than the one they are supposed to be focusing on because it is easier for them to do so. But if you focus on doing what you need to do correctly the first time, even if it isn’t always the easiest method, it will ensure that you give yourself the most beneficial workout.
Others may go in the opposite direction by focusing their entire workout on a muscular area much smaller than the one initially intended upon. This is a recipe for pulling and or straining muscles as well, since it puts way too much pressure on the affected area.
Knee Strength Training Methods
The first knee training exercise most think of when thinking of knee training that strengthens the knee is the lunge. This is a simple exercise that involves putting one foot forward and lunging in, setting your forward leg with your shin at a perpendicular angle with the floor and your thigh parallel to the floor.
The leg behind this one should have your thigh perpendicular and shin parallel to the floor. Walking like this slowly and steadily as you make a lunge with each and every step that you take is something that will strengthen the knees.
A very simple knee exercise that can be done in a chair is the thigh contraction. This is done by sitting straight up in a chair and lifting the legs up one by one so that they become straight and parallel with the floor. Holding this pose for however long you can is something that makes this quite difficult. This can also be done with weights on the feet for more of a challenge.
A wall squat is a simple exercise where you start by standing with your back up against the wall and feet about a foot out from the wall. By squatting down, holding for however long you can, and then coming back up, the knees will gain strength.
To help you keep as steady as possible you should extend your arms and hands straight forward while you do this. Squats in general are a great way to use nothing but your own body to train your knees and get them stronger. For those with access to weights, whether they are barbells or dumbbells, you also may add these weights to your squats. However, it is important to do this correctly.
Dumbbell squats are performed by holding a dumbbell in each of your hands with your arms hanging steady at your sides. Your feet should be shoulder width apart and your arms should not be limp, but sturdy.
When in this position it is safe to squat down, hold the pose for however long is comfortable, and then come back up safely. This is an easy exercise that can be done however many times is necessary for you to get the results that you are looking for.
Barbell squats are a bit different and these may be more difficult to so as well. They begin by having the barbell resting on the rack. In order to do this properly you should get under the barbell with your knees bent at a 90 degree angle and fasten a tight grip with both hands on the bar.
After you are in this position, you should put more pressure on your shoulders by lifting the weight as your knees straighten and your shoulders and hands continue to hold the barbell steady in its position. Careful squats should then be taken, slowly, and when you get tired the barbell can be placed back upon the rack.
It is important not to push oneself especially with this exercise as it can lead quite easily to injury. However, it is a great exercise to help strengthen your muscles. Getting strong is not enough but staying strong is needed for the gymnast to perform to the very best of their ability. This means that coming back to the gym repeatedly is necessary and working out all muscles across the body as well.