Is Gymnastics Dangerous? (Facts and Comparison)

Gymnastics is acknowledged as a highly technical and physically demanding sport. It inherently carries a risk of injury, which is why most coaches and clubs will insist on parents signing policies, waivers and other disclaimers before a gymnast can take part in practice. Common injuries in gymnastics include sprains and strains, fractures, and dislocations.

In this article, we analyse all of the risks associated with gymnastics in order to answer the question Is gymnastics dangerous?

Table of Contents

Key Takeaways

  • Gymnastics carries an inherent risk of injury
  • Coaches are trained to minimize the risk of injury
  • Gymnastics pushes the limits of what is humanly possible
  • Injury rates have decreased in recent years

Overview of Gymnastics Training

Gymnastics is a sport that involves performing a wide range of skills that include agility, balance and flexibility. It is divided into several disciplines including:

Artistic gymnastics is performed on apparatus such as the balance beam, uneven bars, and vault, while rhythmic gymnastics is performed with handheld apparatus such as ribbons and hoops. Gymnastics is a highly competitive sport that pushes the limits of what is humanly possible, especially at an Elite level.

However, research shows that the majority of gymnastics injuries occur in recreational or school-level classes. This highlights the potential dangers of gymnastics even when practicing ‘lower-level’ skills such as Handstands and Cartwheels.

Common Dangers in Gymnastics

  1. Injuries from Falls: Gymnasts perform routines that involve flipping, jumping, and balancing, which can lead to falls. Falls can result in injuries ranging from minor bruises to more severe injuries like fractures or head trauma.
  2. Repetitive Stress Injuries: Gymnasts often perform the same movements repeatedly. This repetitive stress can lead to overuse injuries, such as tendinitis or stress fractures, particularly in the wrists, ankles, and spine.
  3. Impact Injuries: The high-impact nature of gymnastic routines, especially when landing from jumps or dismounts, can put significant strain on joints and bones. This can lead to acute injuries or exacerbate pre-existing conditions.
  4. Spinal Injuries: Gymnastics routines often require a high degree of flexibility and spinal manipulation. This can lead to back injuries, including muscle strains, herniated discs, and in severe cases, spinal cord injuries.
  5. Growth Plate Injuries in Children: Young gymnasts, whose bones are still growing, may be at risk for growth plate injuries. These injuries can potentially affect bone growth and development.
  6. Psychological Stress: The competitive nature of gymnastics can also lead to psychological stress and pressure, which can affect mental health and overall well-being.

Coaching Methods

Like any sport, gymnastics comes with inherent risks. Gymnasts are susceptible to a variety of injuries because they are expected to perform difficult skills that can take months and years to learn. The learning process itself involves coaches physically spotting gymnasts, specialist equipment and the breakdown of big skills into smaller bite-sized chunks.

This process means that gymnasts, often very young in age will have to regularly try to perform new skills on their own for the first time. The relentless pressure on gymnasts to reach certain milestones as quickly as possible also increases the risk of injury.

Unfortunately, most incidents in gymnastics are avoidable and happen as a result of poor coaching or gymnasts not following safety guidelines.

Safety Precautions in Gymnastics

Gym owners are responsible for risk management in the classes that they run. They should aim to minimize the risks to gymnasts by putting certain controls and procedures in place however, parents should always be made aware that gymnastics is a sport where you can never completely eliminate all of the risks from falls or collisions.

Most people understand this and let’s face it, if they are still too worried about the risks to their child, gymnastics is probably not the sport for them!

To minimize the risk of injury, it is essential to follow safety guidelines and protocols including:

  • Gymnasts should always warm up and stretch before training or competing.
  • Proper technique and form are crucial, and gymnasts should receive regular feedback to ensure they are using proper technique.
  • Difficult skills should be taught using smaller drills and progressions.
  • Gymnasts should be taught in small groups with plenty of attention from the coach.
  • Safety equipment, such as mats and padding, should be used as needed, particularly during high-risk activities.
  • Apparatus should be checked regularly for faults.

Coaches and staff are trained for months on how to follow the guidelines correctly including mats and apparatus setup and how to spot different gymnastics skills safely.

It’s always recommended to learn gymnastics in a recognized club instead of being self-taught for exactly these reasons.

Common Injuries in Gymnastics

Some of the most common injuries in gymnastics are found in joints such as ankles, wrists, knees and elbows due to landing badly or falling. Overuse injuries are also common because gymnasts have to repeat skills hundreds of times in order to master them. The most common injuries are:

  • Wrist fractures
  • Ankle sprains
  • Back or knee pain
  • Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears
  • Tendon strains and tendonitis
  • Broken collar bones
  • Osgood-Schlatter disease

According to a comprehensive American review (Thomas and Thomas 2018) researchers found that injury rates in genders varied significantly, with one study of Olympic gymnasts (2008, 2012, 2016) reporting injury rates for females as 86.4/1000 gymnasts and males as 79.9. In terms of training injuries, males had a weighted average rate of 1.4 injuries/1000 hours, and females had 1.5 injuries.

Additionally, the review indicated that injuries in the Olympics were predominantly lower limb (63%) then trunk (23%) and upper limb (14%); the most common injury types were sprains (35%), followed by tendinopathy/arthritis/impingements (17%)​​.

gymnast walkover

Injury Prevention in Gymnastics

Injury prevention is crucial in gymnastics. Coaches and trainers should emphasize proper technique and form to reduce the risk of injury. Gymnasts should receive regular conditioning and strength training to build strength and flexibility. Proper rest and recovery are also essential to prevent overuse injuries.

In recent years coaches knowledge and understanding of how to prevent and manage injuries has greatly improved. Historically, there have been many horror stories where gymnasts have been forced to train through injuries rather than rest. Unfortunately, this will often result in long-term injuries that gymnasts can never recover from.

I’m not saying that everything is perfect nowadays but attitudes and cultures have improved greatly since the 1970s and 80s.

Is Gymnastics the Most Dangerous Sport?

There is much debate as to which is exactly the most dangerous sport, and many would argue that gymnastics takes that title. The Young Injured Gymnast: A Literature Review and Discussion” provides an overview of injury trends in the artistic gymnastics population. It found that injury rates in gymnastics range from 1.08 to 50.3 per 1000 hours of exposure, with more injuries occurring in competition versus practice.

According to Dr. Lara B. McKenzie of the Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio injury rates in Gymnastics are similar to those of Soccer, Basketball and Cheerleading.

Football is another sport often referred to as the most dangerous sport, mainly because of the large number of collisions, fractures and dislocations that occur during games. However, there are many factors that affect the risk and danger level of any given sport which makes it difficult to give a definitive comparison between football and gymnastics.

Benefits of Gymnastics

So far we have focused on the risks and dangers associated with gymnastics so to balance out this article let’s mention some of the many benefits of the sport.

Gymnastics is an excellent sport for building strength, coordination, and flexibility. It is also a great way to improve balance, posture, and overall fitness. Gymnastics can be a fun and challenging sport for children and adults alike, and it provides an opportunity to develop new skills and improve self-confidence.

Final Verdict

Is Gymnastics dangerous? Most people will agree that Gymnastics is a dangerous sport. It provides an opportunity for participants to physically and mentally challenge themselves no matter which level they practice at; recreational or elite. By their very nature, skills such flips, somersaults, swinging and landing come with inherent risks that can never be totally eliminated. However, with proper training, coaching, and safety precautions, it can be a safe and enjoyable sport that provides numerous benefits, including improved strength, flexibility, and self-confidence.

Whether you are a beginner or an elite athlete, gymnastics can be a fun and rewarding way to stay active and healthy.

FAQs

Is gymnastics a dangerous sport for children?

  • Gymnastics can be safe for children with proper training, coaching, and safety precautions. Parents should work closely with coaches to ensure their child is using the proper technique and form to reduce the risk of injury.

Can adults participate in gymnastics?

  • Yes, adults can participate in gymnastics. It is a great way to stay active and improve fitness, flexibility, and coordination. You can even start gymnastics for the first time as an adult if you want to.

Is gymnastics a good sport for improving self-confidence?

  • Yes, gymnastics can be an excellent sport for improving self-confidence. It provides an opportunity to develop new skills and achieve personal goals.

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