WAG Fewer injuries in gymnasts who begin at a later age?

PreciousJ

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Greetings, folks! I am the mom of a 10 year old who is soon moving to Xcel Silver. She's been competing 2 years, started rec classes at 7. As she progresses and starts learning more tumbling/power moves, I have concerns about potential injuries. I'm aware gymnastics is hard on little bodies. Some of you have shared stories about your gymnast's injuries and recovery. I'm a former RN and am fascinated by human anatomy and physiology.

That said, from your experiences, do you think kids who start gymnastics "later" (after 6/7 maybe?) have fewer injuries than kids who start in their preschool years? I'm sure there are published studies I can find, but I'd especially love to hear from those who have been around the sport longer than me. From an anatomy standpoint I can assume older kids may have fewer growth plate injuries, but I'm sure many variables would factor in. Obviously, coaching techniques and hours spent training would make a difference, too. Just wondering if bodies that are more physically mature tend to be less injury prone.

Would love to hear your thoughts!
 

B&M's mom

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I'm not sure that you'll be able to find such studies. Every child is different and injuries tend to be different as well. Yes, there are certain types of injuries that occur during specific growth periods. However, gymnastics stressed areas of my daughter's body that we didn't know were imperfect. She developed OCD in both knees. Turns out both knees had anatomical differences that increased the chance of developing it. Probably wouldn't have happened if she hadn't been doing gymnastics. She had started the sport at 6, we kept her training hours low (7 hours a week until L7 (old system) then 15 hours in levels 7 and 8) until she moved to L 9 and entered into elite training at age 11. After multiple surgeries, it became clear that her knees were not equipped for the type of pounding gymnastics put on them. She was not alone in this, teammates also discovered that their bodies had quirks that put them more at risk for certain types of injuries. So while number of hours at specific ages may come into play for some kids, anatomical differences may account for the injuries of others. I don't know if the studies take that into consideration.
 
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ReluctantGymMom

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I can say my daughter started at 5 in preteam and her friend joined a year later at 8/9, they did the same practice and hours - her friend has constant problems with her knees, and my daughters wrists hurt while vaulting while her her ankles are constantly rolling. Earlier..later... hasn’t seemed to help
 
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NutterButter

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I agree with everything @B&M's mom wrote. In my unscientific observation for the last 10 years there is no correlation with age and injury. Keep in mind that even when kids start 'late' that it's still a sport for youth. The majority are done after high school. An elite gymnast competing in their mid-20s is the exception. Upper level optionals and beyond is just hard on the body. Gymnastics has a way of uncovering anatomical deficiencies that possibly never would have been discovered if the kid was not a gymnast. Again, based on my unscientific observation, a ton of people have imperfect anatomies. Every gymnast at DD's gym who has quit after middle school did so because they "weren't built for gymanstics". Specifically their bodies were made for L9/L10.

Where you might find a difference is with growth-related problems like severs but typically kids grow out of this before they are too far along in the real wear and tear that is upper level optionals. Someone who starts really late in the sport may be less likely to have severs but this person will also be less likely to reach the highest levels of the sport just because the progression of skills takes years.
 
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JBS

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That said, from your experiences, do you think kids who start gymnastics "later" (after 6/7 maybe?) have fewer injuries than kids who start in their preschool years?
No... I haven't seen anything that would support that.
 
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Aussie_coach

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I’ve been coaching for a very long time and I have observed the opposite.

Kids who start training earlier on average have always had less injuries in my gym.

Kids who start at 3-4 years old don’t go straight to intense training. It is built up very slowly over the years. The younger we get them the better we can pace them and build their strength and flexibility up over a longer period of time.

It’s easier to develop the required strength to avoid injuries when you start when the gymnasts are small and build it as they grow.

The worst time for injuries for girls is puberty. So between 10-15, but I find 11-13 they absolute worst time for it. When the body is undergoing massive changes.

We find injury rates much higher if girls start training in this period, or more often if they step up their training to a greater intensity during this period.

If we have relatively serious training already established and the core advanced skills mastered by this age we can usually get them through quite safely.
 

GymDadWA

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Not a coach just a parent but in our gym that isn't too intense (< 20 hours for high optionals), there is no pattern in who gets injured, started early, started late, tall, short, athletic, lean, low hours, max hours, blue eyes, brown eyes, etc. all, no one group is immune to the injury bug.
 

ReluctantGymMom

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I’ve been coaching for a very long time and I have observed the opposite.

Kids who start training earlier on average have always had less injuries in my gym.

Kids who start at 3-4 years old don’t go straight to intense training. It is built up very slowly over the years. The younger we get them the better we can pace them and build their strength and flexibility up over a longer period of time.

It’s easier to develop the required strength to avoid injuries when you start when the gymnasts are small and build it as they grow.

The worst time for injuries for girls is puberty. So between 10-15, but I find 11-13 they absolute worst time for it. When the body is undergoing massive changes.

We find injury rates much higher if girls start training in this period, or more often if they step up their training to a greater intensity during this period.

If we have relatively serious training already established and the core advanced skills mastered by this age we can usually get them through quite safely.
So a different angle on this - do you think the teeny tiny kids who suddenly go through a big growth spurt when they hit puberty are affected by injuries more or less than the kids who grow slow and steady continuously? My kid is a continuous grower, she’s always getting small injuries and is super clumsy - but I know she’s never going to get a 4-6 inch growth spurt and we’ll be done at around 11, if she can stay in one piece. I know the spurt growers have difficulty adjusting to new bodies, but they get a chance to learn skills solidly in one “size” before growing
 
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Aussie_coach

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So a different angle on this - do you think the teeny tiny kids who suddenly go through a big growth spurt when they hit puberty are affected by injuries more or less than the kids who grow slow and steady continuously? My kid is a continuous grower, she’s always getting small injuries and is super clumsy - but I know she’s never going to get a 4-6 inch growth spurt and we’ll be done at around 11, if she can stay in one piece. I know the spurt growers have difficulty adjusting to new bodies, but they get a chance to learn skills solidly in one “size” before growing
Yes, we see significantly more injuries in kids that have massive growth spurts or are fast developers. We also see more problems with development of fear, loss of skills and dropping out of gymnastics.

Those who grow slowly, are more likely to continue with the sport, and progress through those years.

As coaches its so important to be very aware of this. We need to plan training loads accordingly, ensure even the smallest of injuries is properly cared for and encourage our gymnasts through this more difficult time.
 

JBS

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Yes, we see significantly more injuries in kids that have massive growth spurts or are fast developers. We also see more problems with development of fear, loss of skills and dropping out of gymnastics.
Exactly the same here.
 
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ReluctantGymMom

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Yes, we see significantly more injuries in kids that have massive growth spurts or are fast developers. We also see more problems with development of fear, loss of skills and dropping out of gymnastics.

Those who grow slowly, are more likely to continue with the sport, and progress through those years.

As coaches its so important to be very aware of this. We need to plan training loads accordingly, ensure even the smallest of injuries is properly cared for and encourage our gymnasts through this more difficult time.
I think this is something that’s never talked about and I hear parents almost brag about their kid being in the 2nd percentile for height/weight and how tiny they are. The coaches rush to teach them skills and then are disappointed when the kids hit puberty and grow 6 inches and put on 20 pounds (like after Covid or injury) and everyone ends up frustrated. Shouldn’t common sense say that this 48 inch tall 8-11 year old is going to shoot up at some point, she’s not going to stay that size forever?
 

Flopsygymnast

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I think this is something that’s never talked about and I hear parents almost brag about their kid being in the 2nd percentile for height/weight and how tiny they are. The coaches rush to teach them skills and then are disappointed when the kids hit puberty and grow 6 inches and put on 20 pounds (like after Covid or injury) and everyone ends up frustrated. Shouldn’t common sense say that this 48 inch tall 8-11 year old is going to shoot up at some point, she’s not going to stay that size forever?
Yes and no because some kids will always remain small! They won't particularly grow more than an average height kid.
 

ReluctantGymMom

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Yes and no because some kids will always remain small! They won't particularly grow more than an average height kid.
Even the kids who hit 4”8 total at adult height (a tiny percentage of kids, really tiny) are either consistent growers or they where really tiny 48 inch tall kids for years who just shot up when puberty hits. I’ve seen parents, kids and coaches all really struggle with what to do with them at that point.

My kid is gonna be 5”2 at most, she’s been a constant grower with no spurts, but I don’t think we’re in a much better position until she’s done growing because she’s constantly injuring herself and I don’t think she’s ever finding her center of gravity properly. She may just be extra clumsy though.
 

PreciousJ

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I anticipate my DD will be above average height based on me and her dad's heights (I'm 5'6" and he's 6'1"). I was a gangly thing, and she might be the same way. Right now she's average height and weight for her age) all legs, though) and has been a consistent grower, but I fully expect an awkward stage in gymnastics as her legs get longer.
 
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gymbeam

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Mine started at 8 and quit right before her level 10 season at age 13. She had a lot of injuries. Granted, she was practicing 31 hours at one point, so a lot probably has to with intensity vs duration. I honestly don’t think there’s any way around both acute and chronic injury once you get to upper optionals though. Also, mine has been out of the sport for a year and a half now and some injuries still nag her. :(
 

PeanutsMom

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My daughter started gym once at week at age 4 and didn't move up to level 3 until age 8. She has done level 3,4,5,6, and 7. Her worst injury was this year and it wasn't even really gymnastics related. Once the Covid closure hit and she wasn't working out 16 hours a week, she grew 5 inches and developed Severs disease in her feet. It was because her bones grew faster than the muscles and the muscles were too tight. Her worse gym "injury" was splitting the beam the summer between level 3 and 4 and knocking her 2 front teeth out (they were baby teeth). We have been tremendously lucky, but the gym does a great job of doing conditioning twice during practice to help mitigate problems before they start. Do girls get injured..yes, but I wouldn't classify most as severe or the numbers disproportionate to our size.
 
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eucoach

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IMO good coaching will avoid most injuries. By good coaching I don't (only) mean being able to teach big skills correctly as fast as possible. General physical preparation, attention to good posture (especially leg/knee stability), correct technique on strength exercises, ... in short - making sure the body is as well prepared as possible to handle the required training, will avoid most injuries. Of course, this requires full cooperation from the gymnast. If a talent that does not enjoy working on the fine details is allowed to progress past, let's say, level 7 with f. ex. bad leg alignment, the injuries will happen.
Also, if a gymnast starts suffering from overuse symptoms, it is usually possible to avoid a bigger injury (like a stress fracture) if the coach makes sure to create an environment where a gymnast does not wait 3 weeks to speak up if something hurts but instead tells the moment (the day) there's new pain. Even if the gymnast does not speak up, a good coach should be able to tell when something is not right because there usually is a subtle change in behavior or technique.

Sudden injuries, beyond the freak accidents, can be kept at a minimum as well if skills are progressed safely and gymnasts don't throw skills when mentally fatigued.

From my experience (I'm not from the US), especially at the more recreational competitive levels, gymnasts are allowed to get away with horrible technique because they are allowed to throw skills just for fun. As a victim of such bad coaching myself, I would not let my children train if I saw their joints suffering.