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Back Pain in Gymnasts: When to Seek Medical Attention

Author: CHKD Sports Medicine, Michelle Millen, PT, DPT
Published Date: Wednesday, November 20, 2019

By: Michelle Millen, PT, DPT - CHKD Sports Medicine

Countless gymnasts experience back pain. It’s important to know when this type of pain can be easily managed and when it warrants medical attention.

The athlete’s body, especially the spine, is subjected to intense force. Gymnasts bend, extend, twist, sustain impact, and withstand traction forces each day. All of this is done repeatedly during hours of training on multiple days a week.

It is understandable that young athletes will have aches, soreness, and fatigue. Sore or strained muscles may be uncomfortable for a few days; however, this usually goes away without much trouble. Something more concerning would be a stress fracture of a vertebra. This is called spondylolysis. This injury occurs from repetitive stress on the bone, especially through repetitive extension motion of the back. Gymnasts spend a lot of time extending their backs daily. This occurs via bridges, front and back handsprings, swinging on bars, etc. Repetitive impact from tumbling, running, jumping, and vaulting can also contribute to stress on the vertebrae.

Some indicators of spondylolysis include:

  • Sharp, localized pain, usually in the low back and usually in the middle, over the spine.
  • Pain that increases with impact or extension skills.
  • Pain that does not resolve with a few days of rest from gymnastics.

If your gymnast is experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s a good idea to have them seen by a sports medicine professional. Imaging test may be required to determine if they have a fracture. You can schedule an appointment with one of CHKD’s primary care sports medicine physicians by calling 757-668-PLAY (7529).

Whether back pain is from a muscle strain, spondylolysis, or another injury, your athlete also may benefit from working with a CHKD sports medicine physical therapist. Our gymnastics program specializes in treating injuries associated with the complexities of the sport. We take pride in returning these athletes to gymnastics in top condition.



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About CHKD Sports Medicine

CHKD's sports medicine program offers the most comprehensive care for your young athlete. From diagnosis and treatment to customized rehabilitation plans, we specialize in physical therapy and injury prevention programs for active children and teens. Our team is composed of pediatric orthopedic surgeons, sports medicine specialists, physician assistants, certified athletic trainers and pediatric sports medicine physical therapists.