Numerous studies have been made to determine howartistic gymnastics can affect how the female body develops in physiological areas–such as bone and ligament development, injury, and sleeping habits.
This paper will observe aspects of artisticgymnastics that can either harm or benefit the female body. To fully understand how artistic gymnasticsaffects the female body, one needs to look closer at each individual aspect ofthe body. The effect that artisticgymnastics has on bone development will be discussed in relationship to how theradius and the ulna are developed and remain developed into adulthood. In the study, the radius and the ulna bothappeared to have a much higher bone density and bone mass in former gymnasts,which is a positive impact for the body because it can reduce the risk of bonebreakages and bone diseases. Bonefractures will also be discussed, specifically stress and overuse fracturesthat are caused by gymnastics. Stress fractures inOlympic gymnasts are common, which shows that gymnasts have injuries thatcommonly occur in the sport, and overuse injuries are causing young gymnasts toexperience fractures that are not typically associated with gymnastics. The effect of artisticgymnastics on ligaments and tendons will be discussed by studies on theanterior cruciate and the Achilles tendon.
The anterior cruciate ligament iscommonly injured in many sports, and can be a devastating knee injury if torn.When torn, the only option to treat an anterior cruciate is surgery and thiscan put an end to many athletic careers as well as cause chronic issues as theperson ages. The Achilles tendon is some more vital connective tissue that canbe easily injured, especially in artistic gymnastics. About 69% of artisticgymnasts complain or have occurrences of Achilles tendinopathy, comparedto 66% of sedentary peoples. This is amuch more drastic increase than it may appear because 69% of gymnasts is a muchhigher chance of a gymnast developing Achilles tendinopathy than an averageperson (Notarnicola, 2014). Achillestendinopathy is a condition that results in swelling, pain, and stiffness ofthe Achilles tendon.
This condition isthought to be caused by repeated small injuries to the Achilles tendon, andthese injuries are often considered to be incredibly insignificant at the timeof injury but can later result in painful conditions. Injuries are incredibly common in gymnastics,and to demonstrate this point, spinal cord and ankle injuries will be discussed.The reason to why the spine will be discussed is because it is an importantpart of the body that can greatly affect how a person lives their life. As an older study, there may be someinformation that has since been disproven, but basic concepts have remained thesame since the study was performed.
Theankle will be discussed because it is an incredibly common body part that isinjured in gymnastics. Sleep has alsobeen found to be affected by gymnastics and the amount of training a gymnastparticipates in. The final topic thatwill be discussed is basic physiological effects of gymnastics, such as thestereotypical short stature and delayed puberty. These topics will be discussed in greaterdepth to demonstrate how artistic gymnastics affects the female body, because itis important that gymnasts are aware of the benefits and risks of gymnastics sothat they can determine if the benefits outweigh the risks themselves.In an article by G. Ducher (2009) regardingthe skeletal benefits of having done gymnastics at a highly competitive levelversus not having done more than two hours of physical activity a week duringchildhood, the bone strength in the radius and the ulna of former gymnastscompared to non-athletes was observed.
The study took retired artistic gymnasts thathad reduced the amount of physical activity they did in the three or more yearsprior to the study to two hours or less of physical activity a week, and comparedtheir bone strength to the bone strength of non-gymnast subjects. The bone strength of each individual wascalculated through a peripheral quantitative computed tomography (pQCT) test. The study had each participant fill out aquestionnaire to determine if there were other factors that had taken placethat may change the outcome of the experiment, asking questions such as ifamenorrhoea (primary or secondary) had occurred for the subject, which couldinfluence how the bone developed other than the effects of exercise. Amenorrhea is the delayed start of themenstrual cycle, which is common in gymnasts and other female athletes thathave a very low percentage of body fat. Theresults of the test showed that at the site that was 4% of forearm length, theskeletal benefits of the retired gymnasts were 1.9 times greater at the radiusthan the ulna for bone mineral content (Ducher, 2009). The average bone size of the gymnasts wasmuch larger at the distal radius than the distal ulna at this 4% site as well,but at the site that is 66% of forearm length, the ulna appeared to havethicker cortices, 1.
8 times greater bone mineral content, 2.2 times greatercortical cross-sectional area, and 3.7 times greater cortical thickness (Ducher,2009). This study is of importance because it proves that gymnasts, althoughretired, have a stronger bone than the non-gymnast. The reason this has so much significance inthe effect of gymnastics to the development of a bone would be that itdemonstrates the need for physical exercise at a young age.
The non-gymnasts did a maximum of two hoursof physical activity per week when they were children, and this study showsthat the more exercise that occurs at an early age, the stronger the bones willbe, even if the person does not do large amounts of exercise after quitting theirsport. The focus of this study was todemonstrate that the bones of a person that frequently did large amounts of physicalactivity as a young person are stronger than the bones of those that exercisedless frequently. The stronger a bone is,especially as a person gets older, the less a risk one has of seriouslyinjuring themselves.
Weak bones can alsocause osteoporosis, a serious disease that can cause bones to break easilywithout any serious accident occurring. Osteoporosis affects 1 in 3 women overthe age of fifty, and being a gymnast can reduce the chances of getting thisdisease (International Osteoporosis Foundation, 2017). Gymnasticscan increase the likelihood of a person fracturing a bone, even though itstrengthens bones. In a study done byDaichi Hayashi, the amount of stress fractures amongst Olympic athletes in the2016 Olympics was analysed. It was concluded that 12% of stress fracturesreported during the Olympics was from artistic gymnasts (Hayashi, 2017).
A separate study was performed by RobertWestermann, and the study that he and his team performed was to observe maleand female gymnasts at an institution that participates in the NationalCollegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Westermann found that the injury incidence amongst the female gymnastswas 9.37 per 1000 athlete-exposures, whereas male gymnasts only had an 8.78 per1000 incidence rate (Westermann, 2015). Womenare reportedly more predisposed to having stress fractures than men. Although gymnastics is thought to improve thebone strength, stress fractures still can occur due to the amount of pressureand force that is put on the bones of a gymnast.
The study by Hayashi was performed to showthe importance of MRI imaging to the diagnosis of stress reactions before itcan procure into a stress fracture, which, for gymnasts, can be especially important;even one stress fracture—if painful enough— can cause an ample loss of practicetime, which in turn could lead to a more serious injury. Another study on fractures was performed byJaron Santelli, who observed fractures in proximal radial heads of three younggymnasts. Fractures in the proximal radial head are not common amongstgymnasts, and none of these gymnasts had a previous injury that would causethis fracture. Santelli determined that “these injuries are believed to bechronic in nature and related to overuse” (Santelli, 2017). Overuse injuries can be prevented by limitingthe amount of time that one body part or section spends being used andattempting to evenly use all the body when possible. A separate study that was performed by HollyJ. Benjamin shows that wrist injuries are another common injury in gymnasticsthat is caused by overuse. Benjamindiscusses general suggestions to prevent overuse injuries, saying that “general guidelines for overuse injury prevention includinglimiting excessive loading of the wrist, maintaining wrist joint flexibility,an emphasis on proper technique, and incorporating wrist and general corestrengthening” (Benjamin, 2017, p.
322). Following these suggestions have been found to help reduce the chances ofdeveloping overuse injuries, and to be beneficial in preventing reoccurrence ofthese injuries.Artistic gymnastics greatly affects ligamentsand how they develop pre- and post- menarche, as demonstrated by a studyperformed by Kim (2014). Menarcheal ageis the age in which a female starts menstruating. In this study, the effect that the menarchealage has on the biomechanics of the lower limbs during a single-legged droplanding in artistic gymnastics was observed. This is essentially how a knee is able to moveduring a specific type of landing and how likely it is for a gymnast that hasreached menarcheal age to injure themselves while preforming this landing. Knee injuries are extremely common amongstgymnasts, making up about 34% of total gymnastics injuries. Many of these knee injuries, such as meniscustears, are because of improper landings or a landing being too harsh for the kneeto handle, and it was found that as a gymnast passes the menarcheal age, theknee cannot bend as much as it had previously been able to do (decreasedflexion) and is more likely to hyperextend (increased abduction) (Kim, 2014).
This elevated degree of abduction allows foran increased risk of injury. The post-menarche group demonstrated anincreased injury risk in noncontact anterior cruciate ligament than thepre-menarche group. This greater riskwas associated with the greater knee loads of the post-menarche groups (Kim, 2014).
In the study done by Notarnicola,the rate of Achilles tendinopathy amongst female gymnasts and sedentaryfemales were compared. Notarnicola had noticed that a rate of about 17.5% ofyoung female gymnasts having Achilles tendinopathy was reported in literature,but no solid studies had been done to prove or disprove that gymnastics had animpact on the development of Achilles tendinopathy in these women (Notarnicola,2013). The study Notarnicola performedshowed that a higher oximetry value was found amongst artistic gymnasts, but noexact correlations between age, years of sports activity (general andgymnastics), or the knowledge of the main limb were observed (Notarnicola,2014).
Oximetry values measure theoxygenation of tissues or the blood in a specific body part. Notarnicola and the team that assisted in thestudy believe that aspects of artistic gymnastics cause a muscular overload andhyperfusion of the tendon that causes the Achilles tendinopathy to occur morecommonly.Inan older study that was published in 1986, the development of spinal cordissues in gymnasts was observed. Out ofthe 38 former gymnasts that were included in this study, 31 had spinal injuries(Silver, 1986). Silver noted that most of these injuries were from landing onbody parts such as the head or neck while practicing. These incorrect landings would transmitexcess force onto the cervical region and injure the spine. The accidental landings that were believed tobe the cause of the spinal injuries of these patients often occurred from alack of proper supervision.
The factthat these injuries were caused due to improper safety precautions help stressthe importance of making sure that proper skill progressions and correct spottingtechniques are occurring throughout any gymnastics routine and/or workout. Gymnasts should be aware that incrediblyserious injuries can occur in the gym, even if proper safety precautions arebeing taken. Even when in a gym that hasproper equipment and trained staff, extra precaution is necessary. One of the gymnasts included in the study wastwelve years old, which shows that injuries that occur can affect a personphysically, even at a young age. In asurvey mentioned in this study, the majority of spinal injuries that werereported were sprains and strains, but 4.7% were fractures (Silver, 1986). Spinal fractures most commonly occur in thecervical part of the spine, and fractures in this area can have a prognosisfrom total recovery to total paralysis.
Catastrophic spinal injury occurrence is not incredibly common, withonly “6 competitive gymnasts with spinal cord injuries treated at theOrthopedic Department at the University of Heidleberg” between 1985 and 1997(Nassar, 2005, p. 39). This number isgreatly decreased from previous time frames, and part of the reason is thatbetter rules and regulations regarding safety precautions have been enacted tobetter protect gymnasts. Several otherstudies show that the occurrence of catastrophic spinal injuries at club teamsis almost nonexistent, which can be considered as proof that gymnastics teamsare taking important precautions to prevent spinal injury. The increased safety precautions are extremelybeneficial in preventing serious injury, but there is always a chance that askill will not be executed as planned, and in these cases, there is anincreased chance of spinal injury occurring.Ankleinjuries have been found to be 22% of the total gymnastics injuries during thethree most recent Olympics (Edouard, 2017).
During those three Olympics (2008, 2012, and2016), 81 newly sustained injuries were reported out of 963 registered Olympicgymnasts (Edouard, 2017). Edouard andhis team concluded that, to prevent this high number of injuries from occurring,ankles need to be taken into more consideration when acknowledging safetyprecautions. He found that ankle sprainswere the most commonly diagnosed ankle injury amongst Olympic gymnasts, andthis could largely be due to improper landings.
Gymnasts test their abilities, as they should,throughout the Olympics, to qualify for individual medals, and in doing so,they try their hardest stunts. This cancause issues because if one part of a skill, especially those performed at theOlympics, is not executed perfectly, it is quite possible for the gymnast toget seriously hurt. It has been foundthat college gymnasts have a 1.67 times greater chance to injure themselvesduring a competition than to get hurt during their practices (Kerr, 2015). This statistic is astounding because theamount of time that a college gymnast spends in practice is a much higheramount than the amount of time that they spend at competitions.
Ankle sprains can cause up to 17.9% ofinjuries that result in time loss for college gymnasts, and when a gymnastloses practice time it can make it more dangerous and cause them to injure adifferent part of their body due to muscle loss (Kerr, 2015). “Whenconsidering time-loss injuries only, the injury rate during this study period(…) was lower than rates reported in earlier NCAA ISP surveillance data,”(Kerr, 2015, p.
877). Kerr is statingthat time-loss injuries amongst college gymnasts are decreasing, which isimportant to know because it shows that safety precautions are being upheld ata greater level than before. If safetyis being more considered at high levels, it shows that low levels are takingthe time to properly train gymnasts and coaches on how to be safe in the gym.Sleepis also affected by gymnastics; in a recent study done by J.
Dumortier, thetraining load, total sleep time, and sleep efficiency was studied amongstcurrent female gymnasts, and direct correlations were found. In younger gymnasts, it was found that theyhad the highest total sleep time and sleep efficiency out of every age andlevel that was observed. A highertraining load was observed to lead to a lower total sleep time the followingnight in all gymnasts, and training load was found to be the highest in juniorgymnasts. For many people, it isbelieved that they get their best sleep when they work out that day becausetheir body is exhausted, and exercise induced exhaustion allows for a morepeaceful rest, but this study shows that gymnastics can actually do theopposite of what most exercise does in regard to sleep.
Total sleep time for World Championshipcompetitors the night before qualifications was found to be much lower than theaverage total sleep time for World Championship competitors during the study(Dumortier, 2017). This could be becauseof the added nerves due to the importance of the occasion, or it could be dueto the high training load during the podium training. This study found a correlation betweendecreased total sleep time and increased training load that led to a poorgymnastics performance at competitions for all levels and ages of gymnasts. Decreased amounts of sleep can also lead tomore injuries because when a person is tired they are more likely to becareless. Most gymnasts are in theirteenage years or younger, and there have been studies, such as the one done byAnne Wheaton, that suggest that the probability of a teenager participating inone of the five major risk factors of car accidents. Wheaton found that teenagers who got lessthan seven hours of sleep during school nights were more likely to participatein risky behaviours, and “excessive sleepiness, whichis most often a result of not getting adequate sleep, has been shown toincrease the risk for motor vehicle crashes and other unintentional injury amongadolescents” (Wheaton, 2016, p.
339). This study shows that the decreased amount of sleep that gymnasts getcan increase risk factors of injuries, because a sleep deprived person is morelikely to make a mistake than a person with adequate sleep. Sleep deprived gymnasts are more likely to attempta skill and not take the proper safety precautions than a gymnast that has hadproper amounts of sleep would. Thismakes gymnastics more dangerous than it already is, because the reduced amountof sleep caused by gymnastics after hard practices can cause the next day’spractice to be filled with bad decisions and lead to injuries.Gymnastics is believed tocause physiological alterations, such as short stature and delayed pubertysymptoms, and these stereotypes are not scientifically known to be true. Robert Malina and a team of scientists studied gymnasts and their physiques,and determined that there is not a feasible way with technology and knowledgethat is currently available to determine if gymnastics affects how a female’sbody matures. Malina states “It is not possible (..
.) to establishcause–effect relationships between training and outcome measures due tolimitations of available data, inadequate specification of training, failure toconsider other factors affecting growth and maturation” (Malina, 2013, p.785). Malina is disproving the common myth that gymnastics makes a personshort, by stating that there is not enough data and variables are notcontrolled well enough for a definitive conclusion to be made about thephysiological effect of gymnastics.
Studies that test what specific activities, ages, and genetic maturationdo to gymnasts have not yet taken place, therefore it cannot be totallyknown at this time. However, there havebeen studies that have found that gymnasts are typically similarly geneticallyinclined. A study by G. Morucci hasfound that “performances of ACE II gymnasts were significantly lowerthan that of the ACE ID/DD gymnasts in the apparatus expressing power features,confirming the predisposition of these athletes toward power-orientedsport” (Morucci, 2014, p.
460). This shows that genetically gymnastsare more inclined to be powerful, and many powerful body types are shorter andmore compact. Successful gymnasts tend to be shorter because theyneed to have the powerful body type, but gymnasts can be tall, they just areless likely to succeed in higher, more competitive levels. It is notknown if gymnastics itself makes a person shorter or delays puberty, but it isbelieved that people that are genetically shorter in stature are more likely tosucceed at higher levels in gymnastics.
Gymnastics is a sport that millionsof people in the Unites States take part in, and it is important that the risksand benefits of gymnastics are known to all the are thinking about or alreadyparticipate in gymnastics. Majorbenefits and risks have been discussed in this paper, such as bone, ligament,and tendon development; as well as sleep, physical stature, and injuryrisks. These are all important things toconsider when contemplating using gymnastics as a source of physical activity,but one must also consider the benefits and risks of other sports. Any type of sport has risks and benefits, andone must not be afraid to take some risks in order to reap the benefits ofliving an athletic lifestyle. Gymnasticscan prevent certain issues and diseases as one ages, but it can also causeissues to develop, some each individual needs to make an informed choice forthemselves if gymnastics is worth the effort before investing time and moneyinto the sport.