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Gymnastics and Dance

Gymnastics and dance are unique sports that require a combination of strength, power, flexibility, and mobility of the entire body and involve rigorous training schedules. Both sports require the body to move through extreme ranges of motion with high impact forces. Training to perfect different skills and master routines means these athletes are constantly loading their entire bodies, which can lead to overuse injuries and acute injuries like ligament sprains, muscle/tendon strains, fractures, and dislocations.   

Upper Body Injuries 

Common injuries and symptoms:  

  • Shoulder Instability: shoulder pain, feeling of shoulder “popping out”, muscle weakness
  • Impingement Syndrome: pain deep in shoulder, pain with overhead motions
  • Tendonitis/Rotator Cuff Strains: pain with overhead activities, weakness, limited motion
  • Elbow Hyperextension/Instability: tenderness of the inside of the elbow, pain with elbow movement or putting weight on it 
  • Wrist Sprains: swelling, pain and limited wrist motion, difficulty putting weight on it  

Upper body injuries occur most often due to overuse and the repetitive loading gymnasts and dancers put on their arms. In dance, repetitive lifts may place increased strain on the shoulder and lead to tendonitis and impingement syndrome. Gymnasts are more prone to upper body injuries to the shoulder, wrist, and elbow due to the amount of weight bearing on the arms. These athletes also spend a lot of time working on shaping techniques, like a hollow body position for bar swings and layouts, that make certain muscles strong and tight but neglect the strength of the opposing muscles. Providing comprehensive upper body strengthening routines for muscles that can be neglected and giving appropriate stretching techniques that address tight muscles instead of overloading already hypermobile joints are ways physical therapy can help prevent upper body injuries or improve any existing pain.  

Lower Body Injuries 

Common injuries and symptoms: 

  • Jumper’s Knee/Patellar Tendonitis: pain to touch the front of the knee, pain with jumping, running, and landing 
  • Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome: pain in the front of the knee, difficulty with squatting, lunging, and climbing stairs, catching or popping
  • Sever’s Disease: pain in the heel, pain with repetitive activities like jumping and landing
  • Hip Impingement: stiffness of the hip, pain with bending the hip or with high kicks  

The time spent jumping, landing, spinning, and leaping to perfect high flying and graceful movements also put a lot of stress on the feet, ankles, knees, and hips. These athletes often work hard to achieve jump landing techniques that are “pretty,” but offer poor shock absorption and can contribute to overuse injuries and strength imbalances. A physical therapist can help teach improved landing mechanics and address potential strength and mobility imbalances in the lower body to reduce the risk of injury from repetitive impact. Gymnasts and dancers are also trained to achieve a certain look in the way their feet are pointed, legs are extended, and hips are turned out. However, if an athlete lacks external rotation at the hip, they will often compensate by pronating at the ankle or pushing the ankle forward to achieve the appearance of turnout. This contributes to foot and ankle injuries, commonly in the Achilles tendon or posterior tibial tendon. A physical therapist can identify areas of compensation due to a lack of mobility or strength to reduce strain on the body and risk of injury. 

Back Injuries 

 Common injuries and symptoms: 

  • Muscle Strains: pain with movement that decreases at rest, stiffness, pain with prolonged postures
  • Spondylosis or Spondylolisthesis: spinal injury caused by repetitive hyperextension or rotation movements. Pain decreases with rest, pain increases with excessive spinal motion which can cause muscle spasms or increased muscle tension  

Gymnastics and dance require athletes to perform skills at extreme end ranges of movement involving the spine. Both sports require repetition in back extension and quick transitions from extension to full flexion. Common back and neck injuries include muscle strains, facet syndrome, and stress fractures (spondylolisthesis). By assessing how the spine is moving along with the mobility and strength of surrounding areas like the shoulder or hip, a physical therapist can help identify areas that are putting extra stress on the spine.  

 Physical therapists are experts at assessing movement and can work with you to provide treatment of a current injury or develop a cross training program with specific strength and mobility exercises to make you a more powerful athlete and less prone to injury.