Cheerleading Stunts and Injuries

Serious cheerleading injuries increasing with risky cheerleading stunts

Football players throwing cheerleader in air
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An increase in risky cheerleading stunts makes cheerleading one of the most dangerous sports for women and girls. According to the latest data, serious and catastrophic head and neck injuries from failed acrobatic cheerleading stunts are increasing every year.

While most of the injuries are typical of college athletes in any sports and include muscle strains and strains or injuries to the ligaments, there are a growing number of severe, catastrophic and fatal injuries as well.

Cheerleading Injury Rates

The National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research started collecting data in 1982, and the 2009 report ranked cheerleading as the number one cause of catastrophic injuries in female athletes. Approximately 66% of all catastrophic injuries in either high school or college female athletes occur due to cheerleading accidents. Astonishingly, cheerleading at the college level was associated with 70.5% of all catastrophic injuries in female sports for the entire 32 years of data collection.

After cheerleading, sports with notably high numbers of serious injuries to female athletes include gymnastics, track, field hockey and lacrosse.

Cheerleading Injury Types

The types of serious or catastrophic injuries to female athletes included:

  • Head injuries: Learn about the warning signs of a brain injury, including sports concussions and epidural hematoma.
  • Concussion: Learn about the early signs of concussion, including first aid, assessment and testing. Also learn about the late symptoms.Concussions have been linked to depression and cognitive defects.
  • Neck (cervical) fractures: This injury can be devastating. Learn about causes and immediate first aid.
  • Skull fractures
  • Bone fractures: Broken bones can happen with any fall or unnatural movement, as are common in cheerleading stunts.

Possible Causes of Cheerleading Injuries

One of the main reasons for the increase in cheerleading injuries may be that cheerleading is no longer a pep squad that leads cheers from the sidelines.

Cheerleading has become a competitive sport, and the cheers have developed into highly acrobatic and gymnastic moves with a higher degree of risk and difficulty.

Most cheers now involve tossing people into the air, back-flips, and other dramatic stunts. These moves require precision, timing and hours of practice with a skilled coach.

Unfortunately, not all cheerleading squads have the necessary equipment, budget or adequate supervision by a coach trained in acrobatics and gymnastics. Standards for coaching cheerleading are not yet uniform. In high school and some colleges, this may mean the coach is a former cheerleader or a parent, rather than a trained gymnastics instructor.

Safety Tips for Cheerleading

Because today's cheerleading requires a high degree of skill in gymnastics and acrobatics, it's important to have appropriate instruction and coaching. Here are some ways to stay safe:

  • Make sure the cheerleading coach is highly skilled in gymnastics or acrobatics safety training.
  • Check that the coach is also certified in first aid and CPR.
  • Only practice in a designated practice area with adequate padding, mats, cushioning or a spring-loaded floor or gymnasium.
  • Never attempt risky moves without supervision and trained spotters.
  • Cheerleading injury data is currently being collected. Report cheerleading injury information at the National Cheer Safety Foundation's website:


B.J. Shields, MS, G.A. Smith, MD, DrPH. Cheerleading-Related Injuries to Children 5 to 18 Years of Age: United States, 1990–2002. Pediatrics Vol. 117 No. 1 January 2006, pp. 122-129

The National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research. Catastrophic Sport Injury Research 26th Annual Report,

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