“Tell Me Where It Hurts”

A rash of injuries is plaguing today’s young gymnasts
By Margaret Combs
Women’s Sports Magazine – April 1981

Ten-year-old Alison Wholey stands rigidly on the balance beam, one foot pointed forward, hands clenched at her sides. A look of grim determination is on her young, impish face.

“Let’s see it Al,” says her coach in a no-nonsense voice.

Lifting her arms, the little girl bends her leg and launches forward, turns upside down, and drives her foot through the air until it lands with a solid thump on the beam’s padded surface.

“Yes!” exclaims the coach. She claps her hands sharply. “Good Alison. Now let me see nine more like that and you can go on to vaulting.”

Alison nods, then reaches down to adjust the styrofoam heel cup taped to her foot under her soft gymnastic shoe. This is Alison’s first week back in the gym after receiving treatment for a pain in her foot – a pain that did not result from a fall, but from constant hard landings like the one she has just completed.

Alison’s injury, known in the medical field as epiphysitis, is directly attributable to her young age. It is indicative of a rash of ailments that seem to be multiplying in advanced gymnastics programs across the nation.

Most of the injuries are occurring in the 10- to 15-year-old range, and are not caused by accidental falls or sloppy spotting, but by repeated hard landing on youthful, pliable bones and joints that have not reached full maturity. The injuries include bone separations in the feet, stress fractures in the spine, cartilage and tendon displacement, and knee and ankle pain that is simply a function of age couple with stress.

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