All athlete’s will experience injuries throughout their careers. The higher the level of sport, the greater the risk of injury and seriousness of the injury. In the sport of gymnastics and cheer, not only is this a risk to the athlete, but the coach as well. We are all at risk and this discussion will focus on the probabilities, prevention, and repair of injuries.
If you’re an athlete, you’re going to have injuries. However, it is possible to highly reduce the chance of injuries through proper training. Coaches and athletes should always take the prevention approach throughout the training process. This starts by having a structured set of stretching exercises prior to every workout. In the competitive gymnastics industry, stretching is a major part of every workout and may last for 30 minutes or more. This certainly preps the entire body for strenuous physical activity and is a great means of prevention. We see stretching exercises done in other sports as well but not to the extent it should be. Many pulled and strained muscle injuries can be prevented through a comprehensive stretch session prior to the workout.
Safety should always play a key role in every training session. We discuss the importance of proper technique when teaching skills (The Technique Controversy) which is crucial in reducing the risks of injury. Every coach that trains an athlete needs to have the knowledge and experience to properly teach skills at the level they are training. Drills are a great way to develop skills which helps the athlete gain confidence while providing low risk factors. In addition, proper equipment should also be used in training sessions. The equipment should be in good working condition. Worn out or loose pieces of equipment can certainly be a risk hazard. Every gym should have an equipment safety checklist that is followed on a consistent schedule.
Coaches should also have good and efficient spotting skills to assist the athletes in learning their skills. When it’s time for the athlete to begin training new skills without the assistance of drills or equipment, the coach needs to have the ability to spot the skill. Many accidents and injuries can be prevented if the coach has this ability. I have seen and heard many stories of athletes getting injured due to no or poor spotting skills (The Art of Spotting). Every coach should know their limitations and not attempt to spot a skill they are unfamiliar with or spot a student they cannot safely manipulate.
Regardless of the prevention tactics used, injuries are going to occur. Most are minor, and some may be severe. As the difficulty level in sport increases, the greater the chance for serious injuries. When an injury occurs, it needs to be evaluated carefully in order for the correct diagnoses to be determined. Minor injuries such as a pulled muscle or joint sprang can be taken care of in-house by the coaches. It is important to pay close attention to the pain threshold of the student to give an idea of the severity of the injury. Many times, the initial response of a student getting injured can be quite dramatic, even if the injury is minor. The student needs to be cared for in a sensitive manner. After the initial shock, the coach will have a much better understanding of the nature of the injury and what action should be taken. We have all heard and possibly used the phrases “no pain-no gain” or “suck it up”. Although there are circumstances where this is justified, in many cases, it can create disaster.
The initial care of a minor injury such as a sprang or pulled muscle will require ice therapy. This will help to reduce the swelling and provide some pain relief. Every gym should have a fridge or freezer where ice packs and/or ice can be available. This therapy should last about 20 minutes. Heat should not be placed on any injury until about 72 hours after it has occurred. Of course, the athlete will need time for the injury to heal. This may take a few days or up to several weeks depending on the severity. It is important to allow the injury to heal or the healing process may take longer or possibly become worse. The healing process should require rehabilitation that will speed up the process as well as strengthen the injured body part. With more severe injuries, a physical therapist may be needed to direct a rehab program.
With many minor injuries, or if a person is recovering from a more serious injury, part of the rehab treatment may be to support the injured area with athletic tape, kinesiology tape or a brace. Many ankle and wrist injuries are treated with taping the joint for added support. When taping the ankle, the process and technique in taping is complex and needs to be done by a professional trainer or someone who is familiar with how to support the joint correctly (many elite athletes have learned to tape themselves due to trainers not being available for traveling events). If the taping process is not done correctly, the taping will not be effective. If a brace is used, I recommend using a brace made of neoprene material which will provide heat to the area as well as the support needed. These support types should be used in rehab only and not depended on in a consistent manner. To continue to use the brace after the healing process, the injured area will not regain its strength which will make it prone to additional future injuries.
In the event the injury is severe, like a broken bone, dislocation, or severe sprang, immediate medical attention needs to be taken. Every gym should have a recognized safety program that describes what steps need to occur in each situation. The staff should be trained for any potential injury that may occur. This may include the gym program outsourcing a certified safety professional to conduct an in-house seminar for the coaching staff. With extreme or catastrophic injuries, always call 911 immediately.
Not only are the athletes prone to injury, the coaching staff is also at risk. A gymnastics coach has a physically demanding position and prevention should also be recognized. Due to the spotting techniques needed to assist the athletes, the coach is constantly putting themselves at risk. Common injuries are broken noses, torn biceps, joint sprains, back strains, only to name a few. The same procedures should be followed in the prevention and repair as the athletes. If the coach is injured, they may not be able to work, which may create a staffing concern as well as a financial concern (for example, paying for substitute coaches). Know your limitations and do not put yourself at unnecessary risk.
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