South African Journal of Sports Medicine

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Radiological changes among artistic gymnasts in Gauteng Province

A Geldenhuys-Koolen, D Constantinou, Y Coopoo


Background. The skeletal immaturity of competitive female gymnasts allows for a unique physiological predisposition to injuries as a result of the spine, limbs, ankles and wrists still growing. Studies have shown that lower back (spinal) injuries account for approximately 12% of injuries in female gymnasts.
Objectives. The primary objective of the study was to determine the prevalence of radiological changes in female artistic gymnasts in South Africa. A further objective was to determine whether these radiological changes were associated with symptoms and with the amount of time spent training.
Methods. A sample of 40 female artistic gymnasts with a mean of age 15.2 years (range 10 - 31) was included in the study. Thirty-one were active gymnasts and nine were retired at the time of the current study. Measuring instruments included questionnaires and X-rays.
Results. X-ray analysis of symptomatic versus asymptomatic gymnasts showed no significant differences. Of the 18 gymnasts training <25 h/week, 13 (72%) had degenerative changes detectable by X-ray. Of the 22 gymnasts training >25 h/week, 15 (68%) had degenerative changes detected by X-ray. Radiological changes were higher than those in other studies.
Conclusion. The prevalence of radiological changes was higher than international norms, however there was little difference between symptomatic and asymptomatic gymnasts. Patient self-reports of symptoms had little value in diagnosing change in the lumbar spine. Training duration affected the prevalence of changes in the lumbar spine and could be related to conditioning and experience.
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