Cheerleading Once Again In the Limelight for Injuries

November 25, 2012

Cheerleading continues to increase in numbers, and consequently injuries are also on the rise. The injury rate of cheerleading is relatively low, however it does account for around 2/3 of catastrophic injuries in female high school athletes. It is thought that the increase of cheerleading injuries is related to the transition the activity has made from being on the sidelines of football and basketball games into a competitive activity of its own. In just a 13 year period, cheerleading increased in numbers from 600,000 in 1990 to over 3million participants in 2003!

Currently only 29 states recognize competitive cheerleading as a sport and the NCAA also does not include it as a sponsored sport. It is thought that this has negative implications with regards to health and safety.

Catastrophic injury has increased significantly as it was approximately 1.5 a year in the 1980s and grew to as much as 4.8 per year from 2003-2009. Good news is that cheerleading has one of the lowest overall injury rates in all of sports, but as we can see when cheerleaders get injured they are more severe. Cheerleading accounts for approximately 65% of all female catastrophic injuries at the high school level and 70% of female catastrophic injuries in college.

The most common injuries in cheerleading are strains and sprains. This is common with most sports as these are some of the most common injuries overall and typically relatively minor. Head and neck injuries are much lower (3.5-4%) in the grand scheme, but obviously these can be more severe in nature. Stunting, especially pyramid stunts, account for most head and neck injuries.

Recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics

1)      Cheerleading should be designated as a sport.

2)      Cheerleaders should undergo a pre-participation exam.

3)      Cheerleaders should be supervised by certified coaches.

4)      Cheerleaders should be trained in the proper technique in stunts and in spotting.

5)      Technical skills should not be performed on hard, wet, or uneven surfaces.

6)      Pyramid and partner stunts should be done on soft surfaces only.

7)      Pyramids should be no more than two people high.

8)      Coaches should follow rules for execution of technical skills.

9)      Coaches, parents, and athletes should have access to venue-specific EAPs and a certified athletic trainer or physician should be present for all practices and competitions.

10)   Cheer competitions should be held in venues compliant with the National Cheer Safety Foundation.

11)   Any cheerleader displaying signs and symptoms of a concussion should be removed from activity until cleared by a physician.

12)   Surveillance of cheerleading injuries must continue.

That is a brief summary of the position statement the American Academy of Pediatrics put out last month. If you’d like to read the full article, you can find it here.

My Thoughts

I have written a few different times about cheerleading. Many people do not realize the risks associated with the sport and in fact argue over what cheerleading really is to begin with.

That’s the first argument I’ll address here. Frankly, I have to ask this: DOES IT MATTER? The AAP thinks it does, but honestly I don’t. I definitely would say that cheerleading is an athletic activity and cheerleaders are definitely athletes. Recommendation #1 and #9 address this argument and #9 says these individuals should have access to medical care like other sports. What this statement leaves out is that simply defining cheerleading as a sport will NOT automatically mean medical services are provided. We can go back to the National Athletic Trainers’ Associations’ statements that approximately only 42% of high schools in the US provide an athletic trainer. I know many schools in my specific area that have “sports” but have no athletic trainer.

Another concern I have with these statements is the argument for “certified coaches” in cheerleading. It’s not that I would encourage the coaches to continue to develop themselves professionally and become the best cheerleading coach possible. What bothers me is there is no such call for the baseball coach or the football coach. Fact is ALL coaches need safety training including first aid and CPR/AED.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Cheerleading is a dangerous sport. So is baseball; so is basketball; so is football. Cheerleaders are athletes. As I say, Every Athlete Deserves an Athletic Trainer.


4 Responses to “Cheerleading Once Again In the Limelight for Injuries”

  1. Amanda Says:

    Agreed!! What most people don’t realize is that cheerleading has it’s own governing body that regulates most, if not all, of the recommendations listed above. Medical personnel are looking at these recommendations as new, novel ideas. AACCA and NFHS have had these same recommendations for years!!

  2. Taylor McGuffie Says:

    I agree completely! The biggest problem is that Cheerleading is NOT recognized as a sport. The NCAA doesn’t recognize it and neither do a lot of high schools throughout the US. I am currently working on a blog that discusses this called Rah Rah Respect find it here I will definitely be posting your blog as a link on mine – I hope you will do the same! This information is great thank you!

  3. […] Cheerleading in Limelight Again […]

  4. Nathan Ray Says:

    I completely agree, cheerleading should entirely be an NCAA recognized sport. They put in just as much work as the players do and are in attendance for more games (many do football and basketball here at michigan state). They deserve to have the same access to trainers and academic advantages that athletes do. heres a link to an article about how a coach thinks it will be soon

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