Spinal Health Tips for Gymnasts - FITNESS PAIN FREE

Spinal Health Tips for Gymnasts

Spinal Health Tips for Gymnasts

Gymnastics is a demanding sport that requires rigorous training as well as high levels of physical fitness, body control and mental discipline. Because a gymnast must continually perform a series of stressful body movements, such as bending, twisting, and dismounting from balance beams and parallel bars, the risk of injury is relatively high. Several types of injuries can hamper a gymnast’s training, competition schedule and even career, and many result from the overuse of or trauma to the spinal components.

One example of a common spine injury among gymnasts is a pars interarticularis stress fracture, which affects narrow segments of vertebral bone at that back of the spine that join the upper (superior) and lower (inferior) facet joint structures on each vertebra. Gymnasts typically acquire lower back hyperextension flexibility as they train over time. Even so, the cumulative effect of repeated, forceful landings with the spine in a hyperextended position can take a toll on the pars interarticularis. With each landing, the resulting force on the spine – which is estimated to be approximately 11 times the gymnast’s body weight – overtaxes the vertebral bodies that are specifically designed to absorb this type of pressure. As a result, the burden is disproportionately shifted to the pars interarticularis, which is not equipped to handle it.

It’s important for a gymnast to be aware of the dangers posed by excessive and improper training, and to take proactive steps to protect his or her spinal health. Specifically, to help prevent back injuries, a gymnast can perform targeted exercises that focus on enhancing:

  • Flexibility – A stretching routine that improves overall spinal flexibility can help prevent the types of imbalances – and the resulting injuries – that can occur when a spinal component is overburdened by displaced stress. If each spinal segment is able to absorb its share of the burden, no single part will be overstressed.
  • Core strength – Exercises like abdominal bracing, which is designed to strengthen the core muscles that stabilize and support the spine, can help keep the back in proper alignment, making it less prone to strain and injury. The abdominal muscles, in particular, serve as important anchors for the spine. If those muscles are weak, other supportive structures, such as the back muscles, will be forced to worker disproportionately harder.
  • Shoulder and hip flexor mobility – By fostering an equal distribution of the mobility demand between the shoulders, lower back and hips, a gymnast can avoid imbalances that overtax any one structure. In particular, this can help protect the lumbar spine from having to overcompensate for a restricted range of motion in the shoulders or hips.

It’s also very important for a gymnast to pay close attention to his or her body. Oftentimes, the first sign of a spinal injury is low back pain that worsens during activities that require twisting and hyperextension. Because early diagnosis and appropriate treatment are essential to preventing injury progression, a gymnast should never work through pain, but rather should seek medical attention right away

The following article was provided to us by Spine-Exercises.com, a website dedicated to sharing back pain, spine health, and post-surgical exercise tips.

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