Few people have the spinal strength and flexibility of a professional gymnast. How else would they be capable of performing those incredible routines. Sadly, all of that flexing extending and rotating inevitably puts the gymnast on the path to injury. Fortunately, the physiotherapists at Loftus Physiotherapy & Rehabilitation understand the demands, the competitive nature and the unique lingo of the gymnastic athlete, and know how to get the gymnast out of the bed and back onto the bars.
The Structure of the Gymnast’s Spine
Despite its super-human appearance, gymnasts have the same spine as the rest of us mortals. It is comprised of 24 moveable segments, with nine fused segments sitting at the lower portion.
- The upper segments of the spine are called cervical vertebrae.
- The segments that form the ribcage are called thoracic vertebrae.
- The lower segments of the spine form the lumbar vertebrae.
- The sacrum and the coccyx are the lowest, fused segments of the spine.
The extreme ranges of motion imposed by the artistic and crowd pleasing demands placed on the gymnast leave the lumbar spinal vertebrae vulnerable to injury. In some cases, the sacrum might be equally vulnerable, particularly in the joint articulation that sits between the sacrum and the lowest lumbar spine segment, or in the articulation between the sacrum and the two pelvic bones.
Lower Back Pain in Gymnasts
An overly ambitious gymnastic routine might overstretch or tear a muscle in the lumbar region. Partner routines that require constant lifting are an example. In some cases, the actual lifting technique might be at fault. These minor lower back injuries should be seen as warning signs, that more serious injuries are possible. The physiotherapist can help identify and correct weakness, tightness, or postural anomalies that might have predisposed the gymnast to previously unidentified faulty movement patterns.
When that back bend suddenly hurts more than it should, you might be a victim of an interspinous sprain. This injury is commonly called the kissing spine, but there is absolutely nothing romantic about it. Degenerative factors, as well as falls and sudden, violent flexion of the spine contribute to this injury. This injury often requires bed rest. The physiotherapist will help the gymnast learn the body mechanics that would prevent further injury during the healing process.
Spondylolysis is a stress fracture in one or more of the vertebrae of the lumbar spine. It is characterized by its insidious onset, with pain initially felt during hyperextension exercises such as the back-walkover. Whilst spondylolysis has a hereditary component, certain repetitive movements might exacerbate the condition. Limited activity, possibly paired with wearing a back brace, might be required during the healing period. The physiotherapist will prescribe strength and flexibility exercises to help the athlete return to the gymnastic arena.
Physiotherapy and Preventative Care
If you are serious about your career as a professional gymnast, you might want to consider seeing a physiotherapist on a regular basis as a form of preventative care. At Happy Physio, we also have qualified Personal Trainers and Clinical Pilates practitioners who understand the needs of professional gymnasts. Your personal trainer, for example, can prescribe an aerobic exercise program, which will oxygenate all of the muscles, bones, and ligaments of the spine. A high level of aerobic fitness will ward off the fatigue that often leads to injury, while adding a sense of zest and liveliness to your routine. Clinical Pilates training enhances the balance, core strength, proprioception, coordination and agility that distinguishes your average gymnast from the gold medal winners.
Contact us now at (08) 9443 4991 and let us help you be the best!