Gymnastics-related injuries in US kids high

5 out of every 1,000 child gymnasts suffered an injury serious enough to require acute care.

14 April, 2008: Gymnastics is a graceful and spectacular sport, but it is also the sport that involves one of the highest numbers of sports-related injuries.

Gymnastics related injuries in children

A disturbing finding, published in the April 2008 issue of Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, shows that over 26,000 children in the United States land in hospital emergency rooms because of gymnastic-related injuries each year.

Lara McKenzie, assistant professor in the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, and senior author of the study, writes in Pediatrics, “Gymnastics has one of the highest injury rates of all girls’ sports, and the injury rates are similar to that of other high-injury sports, such as soccer, basketball and cheerleading.”

An estimated 600,000 youngsters in the United States take part in school-sponsored or club-level gymnastic competitions each year.

The study points out that “competitive pressure” has been increasing in recent years, and children are competing at much younger ages.

Lara McKenzie and her colleagues combed data from the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission’s National Electronic Injury Surveillance System to gather information on gymnastics-related injuries for children between the ages of 6 and 17.

The search was limited to a 16-year period – from 1990 to 2005. It was found that, during that period, 425,000 children and teens had to be treated in emergency rooms for gymnastics-related injuries. Which means that, about 5 out of every 1,000 gymnasts suffered an injury serious enough to require acute care.

The chief findings of the study, conducted by the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, are:

Of those injured, 82% of the gymnasts were female, and about 50% were aged between 6 and 11.

A great majority of children – 97% – were treated at the emergency room and released, and only 1.7% of those injured had to be admitted to the hospital.

Older children – those aged between 12 and 17 – were most likely to be injured, experiencing 7.4 injuries per 1,000 children, compared to children between 6 and 11 who suffered 3.6 injuries per 1,000 gymnasts.

40% of injuries occurred at school, while 6% took place at another public property. Another 40% happened occurred at a place geared to recreation or sports, and less than 15% of the injuries happened at home.

The upper extremities were most likely to be injured (42.3%), followed by the lower extremities (33.8%). The head and neck were injured in 13% of the cases. Strain or sprain was the most common diagnosis (44.5%), followed by fracture or dislocation (30%). Concussions occurred in nearly 2% of those children injured.

Since the researchers only included emergency-room visits, it is possible that the number of gymnastics-related injuries reported in the study is underestimated, Lara McKenzie wrote.

The website quoted Dr Jan Grudziak, an orthopaedic surgeon at Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh as commenting that the study did not address chronic problems, such as “overuse” injuries, either.

Dr Grudziak added: “The level of competition in gymnastics has risen incredibly fast – 6 year-old girls and 7-year-old girls are now doing what 14-year-old girls used to do. It’s unbelievable what kids are doing now compared to 20 years ago, but kids’ bodies are still the same. They’re not getting like Arnold Schwarzenegger suddenly. Their conditioning is better, but we’re still talking about a growing organism.”

Grudziak also voiced concern about injuries happening in competitive cheerleading, which uses many gymnastic techniques, and warned: “Gymnastics can be a dangerous sport. It’s high-impact; it’s acrobatic. Parents need to be sure that children have a trained coach or spotter using appropriate training equipment, such as soft pits for landing.”





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