Did you know that gymnastics has one of the highest injury rates of all girls’ sports. A study in Pediatrics back in 2008 (Pediatrics. 2008 Apr;121(4):e954-60) already established this relationship but this is not a widely publicised problem. These authors suggested that a national database for gymnastics-related injuries should be set up that would allow better identification and monitoring of risk factors for gymnastics-related injuries and aid in the development of injury prevention strategies. Unfortunately there is currently no national database in the UK although British Gymnastics do encourage injuries to be reported.
Many of these injuries are “overuse injuries” often as a result of overtraining. This is particularly the case in elite athletes who train for longer periods. It is the combination of growth and a high level of activity that places the child athlete at a higher risk of these types of injuries particularly at the growth plates of bones and the cartilage on the surface of joints. The most common example are Osgood-Schlatter’s and Sever’s disease which fortunately rarely result in long term issues. These conditions are extremely common and by no means restricted to elite athletes and are an example of how the child’s body can be sensitive to injury at times of rapid growth. At the other end of the spectrum there are more serious conditions such as osteochondritis of the capitellum – this is where part of the elbow joint is damaged by repetitive trauma – or spondylolysis which is a type of stress fracture in the spine. These can lead to long term problems that continue into adulthood.
Exercise and sport in children has untold benefits, but it is important in certain situations particularly at the elite level that the well-being of the child as a whole is always taken into account. In 2008 the International Olympic Committee published an article and a series of recommendations on the elite child athlete. One of these was that parents of should develop a strong support system to ensure a balanced lifestyle including proper nutrition, adequate sleep, academic development, psychological wellbeing and opportunities for socialisation. Also Coaches, parents and other parties involved should limit the amount of training and competitive stress on the elite child athlete.