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Navigating sports medical practice in women’s artistic gymnastics: a socio-cultural analysis

Chapter in book
Authors Astrid Schubring
Natalie Barker-Ruchti
Published in Women's Artistic Gymnastics. Socio-cultural Perspectives. Roslyn Kerr, Natalie Barker-Ruchti, Carly Stewart, Gretchen Kerr (red.)
Pages 216-230
ISBN 9781003007005
Publisher Routledge
Place of publication London
Publication year 2020
Published at Department of Food and Nutrition, and Sport Science
Pages 216-230
Language en
Keywords elite sport, gymnastics, pain, injury, care, sports medicine, coaching, culture, qualitative research
Subject categories Sociology, Sport and Fitness Sciences, Cultural Studies


Elite level women’s artistic gymnastics (WAG) is a high risk activity. Gymnasts are prone to frequent injuries, and a variety of pain and overuse conditions with debilitating long-term effects. Research has repeatedly addressed coaches and national governing bodies’ role in protecting elite gymnasts from harm. While crucial for prevention and treatment, there is a paucity of research on the role, perspectives, and professional realities of sports medical support staff in WAG. In this chapter, we address this gap in research. Understanding medical work as socio-cultural practice, we use interviewing to explore the professional realities of a sports physician and a physiotherapist in one European WAG team. Our findings show that medical professionals may face pain, injury, and disordered eating in gymnasts and that their professional role understanding in WAG is pragmatically aligned with the necessities of elite sport. However, they navigate medical practice between ‘medical risk-taking’ and, in some cases, use their position to pressure coaches to care for gymnasts. Further, we conclude by arguing that cultural and organisational contingencies limit medical practice in WAG, which leads us to close with recommendations for improvements.

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