Health Care and Gymnastics

- July 31, 2013
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One very popular sport is gymnastics, and especially when the Olympics roll around every four years. Gymnasts appear to be treated like rock stars if they attain the level of medal winners, and they typically get lucrative endorsement contracts. But the few seconds spent on the international stage at that level are only a result of many years of painful pJractice—countless hours of attempting that perfect vault, that ethereal experience on the parallel bars, or that unbelievable floor routine.

When that young man or women finishes a spotless performance, the crowd roars to its feet with thunderous applause. But if there is a fall, or a break in the pattern, or some other mistake made by the performing athlete, a collective sigh comes from the audience, and the gymnast is aghast in disbelief. Gymnastic routines take special training, and the effort can be brutal. The work is punishing, and the injuries can be traumatic. As Jim McKay used to say on ABC Wide World of Sports some years ago: “the thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat” are certainly emotions felt by everyone who enters this physical training and activity.

When you think of gymnastics, you may picture young women doing flips on the 4-inch-wide beam, or men doing incredible feats of strength on the rings. But those images actually represent only two of the seven commonly-defined types of gymnastics, according to the website for gymnastics. Women's artistic gymnastics has the most participants and is generally the most well-known of the types of gymnastics. It's also one of the first tickets to sell out at the Olympic Games.

The Events: In women’s artistic gymnastics, athletes compete on four apparatus (vault, uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise). Olympic competition consists of:

• Team -- Five athletes are on a team. In preliminaries, four athletes compete on each event and three scores count. In finals, three athletes compete on each event and every score counts towards the team total.

• Individual All-Around -- An athlete competes on all four events and the total score is added up.

• Individual Events -- An event champion is named on each apparatus.

Men’s artistic gymnastics is the second most popular type in the United States, and the oldest form of gymnastics. Men compete on six apparatus: floor exercise, pommel horse, still rings, vault, parallel bars and horizontal bar (usually called high bar). Olympic competition is held in the same format as women’s artistic gymnastics, with team, all-around and individual events competition. The only difference is that the men compete across their six events, whereas the women compete across their four events.

With Rhythmic gymnastics, gymnasts perform jumps, tosses, leaps, and other moves with different types of apparatus. This is currently a female-only sport in the Olympics. Athletes compete with five different types of apparatus: rope, hoop, ball, clubs and ribbon. Floor exercise is also an event in the lower levels of competition. At the Olympics, rhythmic gymnasts compete in:

• Individual All-Around -- An athlete competes on four of the five events (every two years, one apparatus is rotated out for that time period) and the total score is added.

• Individual Events -- A gymnast is named champion on each of the four apparatus currently in rotation.

• Group Competition -- Five gymnasts compete two different routines. In one routine, all of the athletes use the same piece of apparatus. In the second routine, the gymnasts use two different pieces of equipment (e.g. three gymnasts will use ball and two gymnasts will use hoop).

While not all injuries can be prevented, the risk of injuries can be reduced. The following is information from the American Academy of Pediatrics about how to prevent gymnastics injuries.

--Coaches: It is important for coaches to be experienced and familiar with the rules. Coaches should also be certified in CPR and first aid.

--Spotters: Proper supervision and spotting should be available at all times.

--Rules: "Clowning around" should not be tolerated in the gym, especially around the foam safety pit or trampolines.

--Equipment: Safety gear should fit properly and be well maintained.

• Clothing that allows for easy movement. (Body piercing should not be allowed around the face or mouth.)

• Wrist pads/braces like "Tiger Paws" to protect the wrist and decrease wrist pain.

• Heel supports like Tuli's heel cups placed in an ankle brace or Cheetahs (which have a heel cup built into a wrap around the ankle brace) cushion the heel for the barefoot athlete.

• Grips to protect the palms. Basic palm protectors are used by beginners. Dowel grips are used by the advanced gymnast.

• Apparatus should be well maintained and checked on a regular basis.

--Emergency Plan: Teams should develop and practice an emergency plan so that team members know their roles in emergency situations. The plan would include first aid and emergency contact information. All members of the team should receive a written copy each season. Parents also should be familiar with the plan and review it with their children.

For more info in greater detail about types of common injuries and some preventive medical needs by gymnasts, visit the website for Healthy

Gymnastics safety is dependent on the gym owner and coaching staff taking responsibility for the safety and welfare of their athletes and for the policies and procedures operating within the gym. First and foremost, to run a safe, successful gymnastics program, gym owners must ensure that their coaching staff is qualified, experienced and insured. The original outlay for a safe, effective program includes training, equipment and insurance. It can be an expensive endeavor, but is necessary to prevent injuries and the lawsuits that may arise from them. The safe use of gymnastics equipment requires certain measures such as preventive maintenance and education. Much more info can be found at the AZCentral Healthy Living website.

Gymnastics is a fun and rewarding sport, and for even those who are not competing for trophies, medals, or awards, it is a great way to get fit and healthy. There are many local gymnastic facilities around the country, and you can join them for a nominal membership. Gymnasts often start out young, so as a parent you need to do your homework to find a location that is clean, reputable, and has good business policies, a trained and caring staff, and great customer service. You and your kids will benefit.

Until next time.

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