Jan 04, 2018 12:00 AM

Author: Libby Mitchell


The high-flying Red Rocks will soon take the floor to start their 2018 season. They will compete at the top of their abilities on the vault, the balance beam, the uneven bars, and in floor routines. While they make it look easy, gymnastics is one of the most challenging sports out there. Injuries are common, especially to certain areas of the body.

“Gymnasts put a lot of stress on their shoulders and elbows,” said Peter Chalmers, MD, an orthopedist with University of Utah Health. “And often, when they injure these joints, recovery can be tough.”

When a gymnast runs and jumps into a handspring or twists and turns around the uneven bars, she is not only putting weight on her joint but also doing it at great velocity. This puts stress on the structures that stabilize the shoulder: the labrum and the biceps tendon. Both of these structures are some of the most commonly injured.

“The labrum can tear, which can lead to pain deep in the shoulder, a popping when the arm is extended above the body, or a feeling that the shoulder is ‘slipping,’” said Chalmers. “Symptoms of an irritated biceps tendon include pain in the front of the shoulder, pain that radiates down the biceps, or pain when forcefully lifting.”

Injuries to the elbows can occur due to overuse. A variety of gymnastic maneuvers put hundreds of pounds of force on the joint making inflammation of the tendons and the muscles common. With enough overuse, the ligaments of the elbow can also become strained. “Accidents are also a common cause of elbow injury,” said Chalmers. “A fall can cause torn ligaments, tendons and muscles.”

Shoulder and elbow injuries take time to heal. Immobilizing the joint is often the first step followed by physical therapy and possibly surgery depending on the injury. Getting the right kind of care is key to shortening recovery time and getting back out on the mat. “It’s important to see a specialist who knows how to properly diagnose and treat an injury,” Chalmers said. “And we here at the University Orthopaedic Center are happy to help Red Rocks work through any problems or injuries and get back to competition.” 

gymnastics injuries shoulder elbow

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