Gymnastics is considered a high risk sport for head and neck injuries. A concussion is a traumatic brain injury that can occur from a direct or indirect force on the head. In gymnastics this can be the result of falling on the head, collision with equipment, collision with another athlete, or a fall where the head does not directly take the blow but a whiplash type movement occurs. In each of these scenarios, the brain moves rapidly inside the skull.
It is important for athletes, coaches, and parents to be able to identify the signs and symptoms of a possible concussion for appropriate medical care to be provided.
Any one or more of the following signs and symptoms may indicate a head injury:
Signs observed by coaches or other team members that may indicate a concussion has occurred:
If a head injury or concussion is suspected, the athlete should be cleared by a health care concussion specialist prior to returning to sport.
Concussion treatment has evolved and a more active rehabilitation is recommended. Initial management involves eliminating aggravating stressors, which can include reading, computers, phones, tablets, light and loud noises. Physical therapy for concussions can include management of neck pain, headaches, vestibular rehabilitation for dizziness and balance disturbance, cardiovascular activities and vision training.
Gymnasts have unique aspects of their sport, tumbling for example, which may pose a challenge to return to sport after concussion. In general, gymnasts are recommended to progress slowly under the supervision of a concussion trained health care provider with new activities being introduced every 24 hours so long as recurrence of symptoms does not occur. See below for broad guidelines for concussion management for gymnastic athletes:
|Stage||Activity||Gymnastics Specific Exercises||Objective of the Stage|
|2||Light aerobic activity||
|4||Vertical work (Non-contact training drills)||
|5||Full Practice (after medical clearance)||
|6||Return to full participation||
Full return to participation should be based on the following: complete symptom resolution, tolerating all academic work, successfully completed exertion protocol and clearance by treating physician.
Tips to prevent concussions in gymnasts:
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1. “Concussion Fact Sheet for Athletes.” USA Gymnastics, www.usagym.org/pages/education/pdfs/concussion_athletes.pdf.
2. “Concussion Awareness for the Gymnastics Community .” USA Gymnastics, Concussion Awareness for the Gymnastics Community
3. “Pediatric Sports Specific Return to Play Guidelines Following Concussion.’ May et al. IJSPT 2014
4. May, Keith H et al. “Pediatric sports specific return to play guidelines following concussion.” International journal of sports physical therapy vol. 9,2 (2014): 242-55.