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Is it true that gymnastics can stunt growth/damage the spine?

(32 Posts)
musicalfamily Sat 20-Apr-13 11:16:29

My sons (5 and 6) do gymnastics and one of them was picked to join a slightly more advanced group who train 2 hours a week, (initially) as they think he has "potential". This is a proper gym that trains lots of very successful gymnasts. Both boys love gymnastics.

I was going to agree but then a friend who is a sports therapist told me that gymnastics is a terrible sport for injuries, that it stunts growth, can damage the spine and that many gymnasts have ended up in wheelchairs! She scared the hell out of me. Should I keep my boys doing recreational or is it ok for them to go down the more intense route? Any opinions would be gratefully received...

loopyluna Wed 15-May-13 07:33:02

Can't answer yet, but my DDs do gymnastics. My eldest is 11and does 10 hours a week. There are 12 year old identical twins in her group and one has been pulled out to train intensively, 26 hours a week, with the national squad. It will be interesting to see if she ends up smaller than her sister! After a few months, her muscle tone is incredible and she is already "bulkier" than her sister. I'll get back to you in a few years wink

All of the coaches at my DDs' club are very small in height but whether or not it's to do with gym or not, I don't know. A few are very overweight too and blame it on having stopped training!

bigTillyMint Sat 04-May-13 12:22:41

Yes, DD's friend who is a really good squad gymnast, is too tall now at 5'9".

Weegiemum Sat 04-May-13 11:22:29

I know one formerly-professional gymnast (he has a Commonwelth games bronze medal for the floor routine). He is very short, and is now a primary school teacher, has taught my dd1 and ds, and through all this became a family friend.

He says to do good gymnastics you have to be fairly short, with all the flips etc, and so most good gymnasts are under 5'6".

He has a great class control trick though! If they're mucking about he does a backflip. That shuts them up quick!

GeorgianMumto5 Sat 04-May-13 11:17:24

Ah, Ds has a degree of hypermobility. Thanks for the tip, re. orthotic insoles. I've been wondering about that.

ryanboy Sat 04-May-13 10:19:07

Hpermobility can be acquired through hard work and training.When we are selecting girls for squad, flexibility is not a major issue as most girls can aquire it fairly readily.In fact the bendiest people often seem to not have theb right kind of muscle fibres IME and .
A combination of reasonable flexibilitynatural strength, natural springiness and above all body control so they can be very neat and even more important the right attitude ie ability to give their all to training which is at times uncomfortable and boring once the novelty wears off

Moominsarehippos Sat 04-May-13 10:07:12

I suppose its about form and 'look' too. A 6'3 gymnast would look odd on the bar!

bigTillyMint Sat 04-May-13 09:34:55

Yes, moomin - at DD's gym, the petitest, bendiest and most agile girls are fast-tracked. If they continue to enjoy it and like training a lot, they could go far. However there are also lots of good gymnasts there who are tall/big and muscular - it doesn't seem to have stunted their growth!

Re swimming, good swimmers develop good upper-body strength, but it's all a bit chicken and egg - if your physique suits a certain sport and you get good at that sport...

Moominsarehippos Sat 04-May-13 08:20:43

I suppose the top gymnasts are top because they are naturally very bendy and slight. Otherwise every gym would churn out tiny tots that could bent like a pretzel and be 5.2 in height.

I think genetics, good training and luck have a lot to do with injuries and long term problems (in any sport/physical 'job').

I've heard that swimming makes you taller but a friends dad who is an orthopedic surgeon said that was rubbish!

Judyandherdreamofhorses Sat 04-May-13 08:12:26

I'm an ex-gymnast with knackered joints. They're knackered because they're hypermobile. I was good at gymnastics because I was hyper mobile. It didn't cause it.

I'm letting DD try gym (and ballet soon) for a while, but will keep an eye on it. I would have benefited from orthotic insoles as a child, but nobody realised this.

sashh Sat 04-May-13 08:08:58

If you look at an Olympic team from any country you will notice the long distance runners are thin as sticks, the sprinters are more sturdy and gymnasts are extremely bendy.

Doing a sport to the level of it being effectively a full time job is going to change your physique to a certain extent.

What sport you do will also lead towards different injuries, you are unlikely to break a bone swimming.

Virtually every professional footballer will have arthritic knees eventually.

Gymnastics does have the potential for a lot of injuries but it is getting safer all the time, moves that gained medals in the past are banned. Equipment is improving, the vaulting table replacing the old horse etc.

I wouldn't worry for 2 hours a week.

GeorgianMumto5 Thu 02-May-13 22:45:58

Ds' genetic heritage suggests knackered joints as standard. At least he'll be able to blame his on something he enjoyed.

ryanboy Thu 02-May-13 22:18:05

many gymnasts have knackered joints in later life I have to say (as an ex gymnast)

bigTillyMint Thu 02-May-13 21:03:15

Well I guess if they were training to Olympic or even National standard it might, but they are only starting on 2 hours a week so I think you're right to take it as it comessmile

DD (nearly 14) has been doing it for 8 years, does 8 1/2 hours a week plus 2 hours coaching and is shorter than me normal height and very fit!

CheesyPoofs Thu 02-May-13 20:59:39

Ex gymnast here. I'm normal height grin

I had a few gymnastic related injuries like sprains, but nothing serious.

musicalfamily Thu 02-May-13 20:20:24

that's really good advice. Makes sense doesn't it?

We've decided to go for the 2 hours a week and then see where it takes us. Clearly I don't think 2 hours a week will damage anything but if it were to become more serious I have some good opinions on here. They might want to give it up by then anyway!!!

iseenodust Thu 02-May-13 18:18:19

A friend who is a coach for another sport says the thing is not to allow them to focus on one sport early because it can lead to physiological problems. So do gymnastics but maybe ensure 1 hr swimming (as non-weight bearing) and 1 hr football/cricket a week too.

ryanboy Thu 02-May-13 12:07:09

Pygmyangel- In acro you do need big and sturdy bases and small and light 'tops'

ryanboy Thu 02-May-13 11:56:15

long limps!!! long limbs

ryanboy Thu 02-May-13 11:55:31

I don't think gymnastics stunts growth, only if a child is malnourished.
Gymnasts tend to be small because it is much easier for small people to do higher level moves.Try lifting a weight close to your body and then at arms length and you will soon see why long limps are a disadvantage!

GeorgianMumto5 Tue 30-Apr-13 10:31:06

Dear me, I hope not - Ds is 6, very small for his age and loves his gymnastics. If his growth gets stunted, he'll be invisible!

His is all recreational, though.

kaumana Tue 23-Apr-13 16:49:48

Ex gymnast here. I'm 5'6 no spinal or other muscle/ ligament problems here. I recently took up fitness pilates and thank the lord that muscle has memory grin

pygmyangel Mon 22-Apr-13 19:58:28

My DS (10) does Acrobatic Gymnastics and trains for 12 hours a week (competition level) which isn't unusual for gymnasts his age male or female. The boys in his class and the girls in the groups that train at the same time vary in size from tiny little things to quite tall and sturdy so I don't think it effects growth dramatically. Although, in acro there is a tendency for coaches to pick individuals that will fit a particular role i.e. base, middle or top so there is potential for any size child to excel.
I think there are many sports and activities that have the potential to cause damage and carry risks once they go beyond recreational level but, at the same time, a child doing those activities, training at that level and possibly competing will be fit, strong and have an enormous sense of achievement. The pros far outway the cons and a good coach knows when a child is physically ready for more training. I think the major problems come when a very young child is pushed too hard too early.

LadyLech Sat 20-Apr-13 21:11:32

Hi, my DDs do competitive gymnastics and lots of hours a week. My 9 year old trains 18 hours. When I was told this, I panicked slightly and looked up the research. From what I can see is that yes, it does stunt growth whilst they are doing gym, but when they give up, most gymnasts catch up within a year. That said, gymnastics is a bloody dangerous sport and I would expect a few fractures along the way smile

Disclaimer: I only looked at the effects on girls not boys.

musicalfamily Sat 20-Apr-13 19:25:03

Thanks for all the links, none of it appears so dramatic as I was led to believe!!

I think the key to all sports is proper coaching and like others on here said, if it isn't going to be at elite level then really it shouldn't cause too much damage/physical alterations.

I don't know what will happen with the boys' gymnastics but it is useful to have the information. With my DD1's ballet I had loads of info from the dance school she attends, but the gym place seems very lean on communications and so it is hard to get some facts!!

lljkk Sat 20-Apr-13 17:45:54

Some sports do change physiology, like swimmers usually develop big shoulders.
But the physiology can change again, look what happened to Lance Armstrong (he had been a triathlete and the cancer took all the muscle out of his upper body).

Young cyclists can permanently damage their knees if not careful. Some sports have specific hazards.

The googling I'm doing suggests that gymnasts are small because they are meant to be small, not because of their training (read this).

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