Are Gymnastics Injuries Just Part of the Territory?
Gymnastics is the hardest sport in the world. You don’t need evidence to back it up or citations to prove it. It’s just a fact. On top of it being the hardest sport, it is definitely one of the most dangerous ones. Yes, injuries happen in all sports. You see soccer players with broken ankles, football players with turf toe, and hockey players with missing teeth. However, gymnasts use every single muscle in their bodies everyday. They are left broken down and beaten up by the time they are forced to retire around the young age of 20. Sure, there are some outliers out there. Oksana Chusovitna is still competing and she’s 35 years old, but most gymnasts’ bodies can’t handle much more past the age of about 22, whereas you see soccer players and baseball players playing until they’re in their 30’s and even into their 40s. Why is gymnastics so demanding on the body, and why are so many gymnasts forced to give up the sport they love when they’re still teenagers?
Many people believe that injuries in gymnastics are the result of intense training at the highest level. Elite gymnasts train an average of 35 hours a week. That’s almost a full time job. With two thirds of the events using an excessive amount of force on one’s limbs, significant wear and tear is bound to occur on the bodies of these elite level gymnasts. Perhaps if elite gymnasts didn’t do so much pounding on their limbs and rested their bodies more, they would stay healthier for longer periods of time.
For example, Alicia Sacramone recently tore her Achilles tendon at the World Championships less than 24 hours before she was supposed to lead the team in the preliminary competition. It was a huge loss to team USA, but some experts think that if Sacramone hadn’t pushed past her limits, she would have still been able to competed at Worlds. Others believe that Sacramone’s injury was primarily the result of repetition after repetition. She just happened to do so many pounding tumbling passes that her Achilles couldn’t take it anymore and tore. In an interview with the Gymnastics Examiner’s Blythe Lawrence, she says, “Part of the sport is about pushing the envelope and seeing what the limits of the human body are — how many flips you can do, how many twists. When you push those outer limits on a daily basis in training, well…we’re human, and injuries result.” Lawrence has a point when she says that gymnasts are only human.
Injuries not only happen in elite gymnastics but on the Junior Olympic level. You can go to a level 10 competition anywhere in the country (and probably anywhere in the world) and you’ll see at least ten taped ankles, a knee brace, wrist guards, etc. You wouldn’t be doing it right if you hadn’t gotten at least a little bit hurt at some point during your gymnastics career. I can say this because I have not only witnessed injuries in gymnastics but also experienced them myself. During my eleven year gymnastics career, I sprained my ankles at least five times, fractured my wrist, fractured my ankle, tore my meniscus, broke my toes, tore ligaments in my foot, and pulled muscles all over my body. Injuries in gymnastics are merely a part of the sport. In a video made by ESPN in the series called Sport Science, the host, John Brenkus, discusses just what gymnasts go through when preforming certain skills. The enormous force that is put on one’s body while doing gymnastics is bound to cause injuries at some point during a gymnast’s career.
Gymnast’s hard work and determination may result in an injury from overuse and comes from the desire to be the best. When you go into a gymnastics competition you don’t think to yourself, “I want to fall on beam today.” Gymnasts train as much as they do because they want to be the best that they can be. If they get injured in the process, they do whatever they can to heal and get back into competition again. Injuries come with the territory of the sport. It wouldn’t be the hardest, most dangerous sport without a couple of broken bones here and there.
Check out my video interview on gymnastics injuries. I talked to some of the gymnasts and coaches at Atlanta Gymnastics Center about all of the injuries they’ve sustained through doing gymnastics.