March 28, 2017

What every gymnast should know about back pain

Neck, Back and Spine | Non-operative Care | Sports Injury


Gymnasts have an amazing ability to run, jump, flip, twirl, leap and twist with an ease that is fascinating to watch. Although gymnastics is inspired by graceful moves and stunts, the complexity of formations and routines can leave a gymnast exposed to many injuries.

Dr. Meredith Langhorst a spinal diagnostics and therapeutics specialist at OrthoIndy, traveled to Rio in the summer of 2016 to be an on-call consultant for the U.S. gymnastics team. She can attest that gymnasts are just as susceptible to injuries as many other sports.

According to Dr. Langhorst having a strong core is an important foundation for every gymnast. However, even with a strong core a gymnast’s training, stance and landings make them vulnerable to improper movements which can result in injuries.

Back pain from gymnastics

“Low back pain is one of the most common ailments of a gymnast,” said Dr. Langhorst. “By far the most common cause of low back pain from gymnastics is lumbopelvic dysfunction. This is when there is a deficiency in the movement of the spine and pelvis in space. Gymnasts are also prone to stress fractures in the spine called spondylolysis or pars fractures; a result of repetitive overuse with improper stabilization.”

Treatment for back pain in gymnastics

Treatment for these injuries usually starts with a physician evaluation of spinal mechanics. Typically the physician will ask the gymnast to do basic movements of every day life; sometimes evaluation of a gymnast’s moves during the sport is also necessary.

Based on the specific injury, the physician will usually recommend therapeutic exercise and teach proper stabilization techniques and breathing exercises to help strengthen the gymnast’s core. Activity modification must also be encouraged to avoid re-injury or stress on a different part of the body. Overtime, the exercises may become more advanced while a gymnast prepares to return to the sport.

For spinal stress fractures a gymnast will typically be fitted with a brace to wear while the bones heal. Physical therapy and stabilization exercises prior to and during return to sport is also necessary to prevent re-injury.

“With lumbopelvic dysfunction we can usually keep the gymnast in the sport with significant modifications; such as modifying landing techniques by using soft surface in a pit or in a tumble track.  We may also limit the amount of extension or specific elements that they can perform,” said Dr. Langhorst. “As far as fractures, athletes can sometimes be out of the sport for 6 to 12 weeks. Every attempt is made to keep the athlete involved and engaged.”

How to avoid injuries during gymnastics

A gymnast can avoid injury by having a coach or trainer monitor their movement and offer guidance for proper techniques. Dr. Langhorst also recommends regular core stabilization and lumbopelvic stabilization exercises with flexibility and range of motion movements. Furthermore, proper increase in amounts of load and stress applied to the gymnast’s body should be followed; too much weight at one time can cause the body to breakdown.

“Lumbopelvic dysfunction is a common and often overlooked component of acute and chronic low back pain,” said Dr. Langhorst. “Advances in this discipline will help keep our athletes strong and healthy in the ever increasing competitive environment of gymnastics.”

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Langhorst please call 317.802.2879 or learn more about non-surgical orthopedic care at OrthoIndy.
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