(NEW YORK) -- At gymnastics gyms all over the country, there's been a tremendous surge in enrollment since the Fierce Five leapt, flipped and tumbled their way to Olympic gold this past summer. According to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, participation in the sport is up 18 percent since 2009.
Dreams of becoming the next Gabby Douglas aside, experts advise parents to consider the risks involved in a sport that demands 10-15 hours of practice a week all year round before children -- 70 percent of them girls -- reach the age of 10.
Of the three million children between the ages of 6-17 who do gymnastics, more than 25,000 of them are treated for gymnastics-related injuries in U.S. emergency rooms each year, according to recent report by the Center for Injury Research and Policy in Columbus, Ohio. That's on par with the injury rates from contact sports like lacrosse and hockey.
Aches and pains of the shoulders, wrists and other upper body extremities dominate the list of gymnastic-related injuries. Ankle, knee and spine injuries are also common. Some are the inevitable trauma of overuse. Others are the result of an unfortunate misstep or short landing.
About 40 percent of injuries take place at the gym and another 40 percent during school recreation programs. But for budding athletes between the ages of 6 and 11, sending them to the gym is likely to prevent harm -- a much higher percentage of accidents for kids in this age group take place at home where they're jumping off coffee tables and bouncing on couches without the benefit of a mat or supervision.
"When gymnastics is done properly, it looks daring but the athletes have actually been taught the basics of how to move their bodies safely," said Randy Nebel, who has coached all levels of gymnasts nationally for the past decade. "A program where there's proper spotting and coaching undoubtedly saves a lot of kids from getting hurt."
Jim Thornton, president of the National Athletic Trainers Association agreed, adding that it's important for coaches to spend ample time on balance and flexibility training as well as overall conditioning.
"They might be sore after a workout and that's OK but they should never workout with pain that doesn't resolve within a few days," he said.
He also warned parents to watch out for coaches who drive kids too hard.
"If a coach is telling your child to ignore the pain and keep going, that's a red flag," he said.
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