Serious Cheerleading Injuries On the Rise Due to Dangerous Stunts

Serious cheerleading injuries increasing with risky cheerleading stunts

cheerleader injuries
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When you think of cheerleading, you probably don't think of it as a dangerous sport. But cheerleading is no longer a pep squad team 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. This increase in risky cheerleading stunts makes cheerleading one of the most dangerous sports for women and girls.

In fact, according to the latest data, the number of  serious and catastrophic head and neck injuries from failed acrobatic cheerleading stunts are increasing every year.

Most cheers now involve complicated choreography that includes tossing people into the air, back-flips, tall human pyramids and other dramatic and risky acrobatic 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.

Cheerleading Injury Statistics

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.

Common Cheerleading Injuries

While most cheerleading injuries are typical of high school and college athletes in any sport and include muscle strains and strains or injuries to the ligaments, the number of severe or catastrophic cheerleading injuries is on the rise. The types of serious or catastrophic injuries to female athletes included:

  • Head injuries: Cheerleading is a leading cause of head injury in girls and women who play sports. Learn about the warning signs of a brain injury, including sports concussions and epidural hematoma.
  • Concussion: Concussion is a very common head injury that is receiving far more attention due to the spotlight on NFL players. The cumulative effects of concussion have also been linked to depression and cognitive defects later in life and a not something to be taken lightly.  Learn about the early signs of concussion, including first aid, assessment and testing. Also learn about the late symptoms. 
  • Neck (cervical) fractures: Cheerleaders are at higher risk than many athletes for a neck injury, particularly when participating in flips and tossing one another into the air on a hard sports court. One misstep or poorly timed catch and a serious neck injury could be disastrous for an athlete. Even less traumatic neck injuries, including whiplash and sprains can sideline a cheerleader for the season. Learn more about the types and immediate first aid treatment for a variety of neck injuries and know what to do to prevent.
  • Skull fractures.  A skull fracture is a serious injury that requires immediate emergency treatment. Learn the signs and symptoms of skull fractures.
  • Bone fractures: Broken bones can happen with any fall or unnatural movement, as are common in cheerleading stunts gone wrong. Read more about the types of fractures, and their warning signs and symptoms.

 

Safety Tips and Precautions for Cheerleading Teams

Because today's cheerleading stunts 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: www.cheerinjuryreport.com.

Sources

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, http://www.unc.edu/depts/nccsi/AllSport.pdf..

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