During the initial stages of cheerleading the sport was just that – groups of men and women leading the crowd in cheers with pom poms and high kicks. But as time progressed the routines and skills performed have become more complex to entertain the crowds at sporting events. As the sport has evolved there is an unfortunate side effect that has evolved as well – cheerleading injuries.
There are some estimates that up to 16,000 cheerleaders suffer injuries each year. Some experts claim that high school cheerleading is the most dangerous sport. Between 1987 and 2007 there were 103 high school cheerleading injuries that were classified as serious, disabling or even fatal. The other most dangerous high school sports (gymnastics and track and field) didn’t even come close in terms of number of injures, with only 16 injuries reported that were classified as serious, disabling or fatal.
College cheerleaders have also suffered their share of cheerleading injuries. About one quarter of the insurance money spent by the NCAA Insurance program during 2005 went to pay for cheerleader injures. More serious injuries were sustained by cheerleaders than in field hockey, gymnastics or lacrosse.
Specialists in sports medicine have said that during the past few decades the sport of cheerleading has become more dangerous. During the period 1990 to 2002 there was an alarming increase in the number of cheerleaders who sustained injuries that required them to go to the emergency room. One of the main sources of cheerleading injuries is the classic cheerleading move called a pyramid where a cheerleader is on top of a two, three or four person base.
What kind of injuries can be sustained by a cheerleader? Studies estimate that more than half of the injuries sustained are sprains and strains. Soft tissue injuries, fractures, lacerations, and concussions/closed head injuries have also been sustained by cheerleaders.
While cheerleading can be considered a dangerous sport, there are ways to make it safer for those who participate. Dr. Sally Harris, a specialist in sports medicine and pediatrics at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation states that part of the problem when it comes to cheerleading injuries is that it isn’t classified as a sport by many schools. Because of this, cheerleading doesn’t get the same support the other sports get in terms of access to trainers and appropriate facilities. Dr. Harris advocates a yearly physical prior to the start of the cheerleading season for all cheerleaders. Also, parents should ask if their cheerleading coaches are certified and inquire as to their background and experience. There is a certification offered by the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators that covers both cheerleading safety and risk management.
Some other techniques that can be used to help prevent the occurrence of cheerleading injuries include proper stretching before and after each cheerleading activity by the cheerleaders; proper landing positions after jumps; exercise to strengthen the core of the body (hip, back and abdominal muscles)’ and adequate rest periods after tumbling practice.
When proper safety and risk management principles are applied by the coaches, trainers, cheerleaders and parents many cheerleading injuries can be prevented. Awareness of the potential warning signs of injury is also important. Parents and cheerleaders should be able to recognize signs such as swelling, deformity, numbness/tingling and extreme difference in temperature as signs of a potentially serious injury. Timely medical treatment can also minimize the extent of an injury in some situations