Gymnastics became more popular in the United States after the 1972 Olympics. Though few athletes make it to the elite level of international competition, high schools and colleges do have upper level competitors on their gymnastic teams.
There is the potential for overuse injuries due to the amount of practice time, and attempt to perfect certain series of skills and tricks. Due to the physical demands placed on the body during landings, there is a high risk for injury (despite the copious amounts of mats and foam padding). According to the NCAA Injury Surveillance Survey for the 1997-98 Women’s Gymnastics Season, 87% of all injuries were during practice. Sprains and strains were the most common, but 7% of the injuries were head and neck trauma. During an event, such as a meet, the Floor Exercise held the highest amount of injuries. Most of these injuries were sustained during a manuever without the use of a spotter.
Very common in gymnastics is the prevalence of hyperlordosis. Our lumbar spine (the lower segment of our spine) has a natural curve called a “lordosis” this develops approximately 10-18 months after birth as the infant begins to walk upright. When this curve is strongly accentuated, it is termed “hyperlordosis.” This is very common due to the nature of the hyper-extension positions of the athlete. These poses may lead to microtrauma to the spine, which could further lead to an increase in spondylolysis, a fracture of the pars interarticularis, a small portion of the vertebra.
Spondylolysis is painful. Treatment protocols have been debated, but the agreed upon goal is to restore pain-free range of motion and normal function. Bracing may be suggested to assist in healing. Return to the sport is allowed after the athlete is pain-free, asymptomatic, and has done a series of rehabilitative exercises to restore function.
Like any sport, there is an increase for injury when the athlete is not properly trained or performing through injury or fatigue. It is important for the athlete to know their own limit, and for coaches and parents to pay close attention to changes in physical behavior.