We’ve all taken on the role of “armchair quarterback” at some point.
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Maybe you watched as your favorite wide receiver dropped a lob, a national team soccer player missed an open net, or a world-renowned NBA player blew an unguarded layup.
You sat back and said, “I could’ve done it better than that!”
But one sport you likely can’t say the same for is gymnastics. There’s no sport out there that requires such an insane amount of balance, power, strength, coordination, and stamina.
It’s also one of the most dangerous sports out there, given the complexity of competition events and maneuvers.
So how common are gymnastics injuries? And which injuries do gymnasts face most often?
To find out, read on!
Environment Statistics for Gymnastics Injuries
- Over 86,000 gymnastics injuries each year require professional treatment at a hospital, clinic, or doctor’s office.
- Between 1990 and 2005, nearly 426,000 gymnastics-related injuries in children required an emergency room visit.
- Most gymnastics injuries (40%) happened at school, followed by the sports arena (39.7%), residence (14.5%), and public property (5.8%). The more commonly injured areas of the body include the upper extremities (42.3%), lower extremities (33.8%), head and neck (12.9%), and the trunk (10.4%).
- Nearly 70% of gymnastics injuries happen during apparatus events, with floor exercise (41.9%) and the uneven bars (28.2%) being the most dangerous.
This data is both surprising and entirely expected.
Gymnastics injuries are bound to happen, and, if you’re untrained and just winging it on playground equipment, 86,000 injuries a year might even seem “low” by your standards.
But it also goes to show something interesting:
Even in the appropriate training and competition environment, your risk of injury is nearly equivalent to doing it at school—perhaps even without a skilled trainer teaching you tricks.
There’s a good reason for these stats.
Gymnastics is the type of sport where you rely entirely on skill rather than the environment.
So unlike in football, where one turf might be a little slippier than another, gymnastics bars, beams, mats, and rings are relatively similar across the board.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re at the playground, a gymnastics gym, or on solid ground.
If you don’t have the skill to perform the trick, your physical environment won’t save you from a sprained wrist or Achilles tear.
Comparing Injuries for Men and Women Gymnasts
- Severe gymnastics injuries are far more likely to happen to female gymnasts and require surgery post-injury (24.4% vs. 9.2%). Male gymnasts more often injure their wrists and hands (24%), while female gymnasts were more prone to ankle or foot injuries (39%).
- Most non-professional gymnasts face injuries due to poor spotting or balance beam activities. 64% of all gymnastics injuries will impact the lower body.
- Studies show that up to 70% of injuries among female gymnasts involve the lower extremities, up to 25% target the upper extremities, and nearly 17% of injuries hurt the spine or trunk.
- Male gymnasts are more likely to injure their upper extremities (42.8%), lower extremities (33.6%), spine and torso (11.8%), and neck and head (4.9%). In female gymnasts, the more commonly injured regions of the body are the lower extremities (51%), upper extremities (38%), torso and spine (13%), and the neck and head (0.8%).
- Younger male gymnasts are most likely to injure their shoulders (up to 19%), wrists (up to 13.8%), and ankles (up to 13.9%).
- Male gymnasts are far more likely to injure their lower extremities (6.7% higher risk) and upper extremities (17.4% higher risk), as compared to female gymnasts.
If you don’t know a thing about gymnastics, you might look at these statistics and assume they’re a result of the strength and power differences between males and females.
Though likely partially responsible, that’s not entirely the case.
You also have to consider the “events” that male and female gymnasts participate in and which parts of the body they put most tension and pressure upon.
The more common male gymnastics events include the pommel horse, still rings, parallel bars, and horizontal bars.
These activities not only require insane upper body strength (seriously, the iron cross on the rings is insane), reliable equipment, but also lend to the heightened risk of upper extremity injuries.
Female gymnasts also do events that require insane upper-body strength, like the uneven bars and vault. But female gymnasts spend quite a bit of time on the balance beam and floor too.
That helps to explain why lower-body injuries are all-too-common in female gymnasts—an improper landing or dismount can destroy the lower body.
It’s safe to assume that the area of your body that undergoes the most tension and stress during an event will also be the muscle, joint, or bone that’s most likely to experience an injury.
So that settles that.
Statistics on Common Gymnastics Injuries
- Most Olympic gymnastics injuries happen within the lower limbs (63%) and trunk region (23%). The more common injury types among Olympic athletes include sprains (35%), tendon injuries or overuse (17%), bruises (10%), and fractures (7%).
- Nearly 61% of young gymnast injuries impact the lower extremities, as compared to almost 23% of injuries that target the upper body.
- Among rhythmic gymnasts, common sports injuries are more likely to occur within the foot (38.3%), knees and lower legs (19.1%), and the back (17%).
- In NCAA gymnasts, the ankles (17.9%), Achilles tendon and lower leg (13.6%), the trunk (13.4%), and the foot (12.4%) are the most common injury locations.
- Trampoline gymnasts experience the most injuries within their lower extremities (49.1%), spine (32.3%), and upper extremities (18.6%). More specifically, the knee (19.9%), lower back (16.8%), and ankle (15.5%) are most injured.
Let’s face the unfortunate truth:
Not only are gymnastics injuries not uncommon, but you also face a consistent threat of facing one regardless of your skill level or experience.
These statistics show that the risk of getting injured on the bars or the beam isn’t much better after years in the sport or attaining the title of “professional.”
What we do learn from this data is that gymnastics injuries can be severe.
A sprain in your wrist might only sideline you for two weeks. But an overuse injury or a fracture can keep you off the mat for eight weeks or more and still give you problems months later.
Gymnastics training is somewhat of a vicious cycle.
You often train to perfect your technique and get those 10s on competition day. But the more you train, the more likely you are to injure yourself and develop a chronic injury that sidelines you.
There’s a fine line between overtraining and “just enough.’
You have to be willing to find it.
Gymnasts have an extraordinarily higher risk of injuring their shoulders, elbows, and wrists while practicing and competing.
The biggest culprit behind these injuries is the concept of weight-bearing.
Maneuvers like handsprings and round-offs shift the weight-bearing responsibility from your lower body to your upper body.
Think about why this increases your risk of injury.
Your leg muscles, joints, and bones are accustomed to supporting your body weight (walking, running, and jumping).
Your shoulders, wrists, and elbows—though strong—are not meant to take over that heavy of a load. This considerably ramps up your risk of injuring them while under tension.
The more common upper body gymnastics injuries include:
Sprains in the wrist, elbow, and shoulder
Labrum tears and lesions
It’s worth pointing out that your lower body isn’t in the clear due to its undeniably greater strength. Knee and ankle injuries are common as a result of awkward landings and dismounts.
Common lower body injuries include:
ACL tears or strains
Injuries to the Achilles tendon
Lower back injuries
Gymnastics is dangerous, that’s for sure. But, given basketball piques the interest of over 26 million children, it should come as no surprise that the injury rates are relatively high—over 570,000 injuries in 2012, to be exact. Some of these injuries were so severe that 8,000 young people had to be hospitalized.
As long as gymnasts use a spotter, proper safety equipment (like mats and foam pits), and have years of hands-on experience, a fatality mid-practice or mid-competition is very rare. However, it’s not unheard of.
There have been enough reported cases of gymnasts landing on their necks or heads at just the right angle and becoming paralyzed as a result to trigger fear in many people.
Fortunately (while also, unfortunately), mild injuries are far more likely.
The data shows that 100,000 gymnastics injuries occur every year. Considering over 4 million people do gymnastics each year, your risk of injury is about 2.5%.
Is there a guarantee you’ll hurt yourself if you try gymnastics?
Even doing gymnastics a few times per week can help you build your coordination, flexibility, strength, and power—yes, in a way that resistance training will never be able to top.
But if you’re going to get into gymnastics, you need to do so safely.
That means finding a reputable local gym and working with a gymnastics trainer as you gain control over your movements and work your way up to more complicated tricks.
Don’t “wing it” and use couch cushions in place of legitimate mats, for example.
And understand that there’s a give-take relationship between lifting weights and gymnastics.
They both lend to one another equally, so don’t ditch one and hope the other takes over for both benefits.