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Sport Specific Injuries: Cheerleading

Since modern cheerleaders are 97% female, it might surprise you to learn that cheering was originally a boys’ club. In the early 1900s, cheers and chants at games were lead by male students, and many schools had cheer-oriented fraternities. In fact, it wasn’t until men left to fight in World War II that ladies stepped in to lead their school’s cheers, and it’s a role they have never since left. However, today’s cheerleaders have only a passing resemblance to the sport’s early participants. Sideline clapping and jumping has largely given way to breathtaking routines filled with daring acrobatics and high-flying stunts as squads compete not only to raise their school’s spirit, but also to win against other squads. And with this increased complexity of the sport, the injury rate of participants has also gone up.

According to the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research, although cheerleaders make up only 3% of female high school athletes, they account for a full 65% of catastrophic injuries to that group. These injuries include whiplash, concussions, broken backs and necks, skull fractures, and even death. While it’s true that the most common cheerleading injuries are sprains of the ankle and wrist, and that the overall injury rate of cheerleading is roughly the same as other sports, it cannot be ignored that the severity of cheerleading injuries is sometimes disastrous.

These are some scary numbers, especially if your child has aspirations towards cheering. Nothing can make cheering (or any other sport for that matter) 100% safe, but fortunately the prescription for reducing the risk of serious injury is the same as the one for reducing the risk of less-serious ones:

• Use a floor mat as much as possible, but especially when practicing new/difficult routines.
• Ensure spotters are properly trained for their role.
• Similarly, make sure coaches have adequate training and experience for the stunts they are teaching and that the stunts are age-appropriate for their team.
• Follow mandated rules for stunts, such as observing thrower to flyer ratio limits and restrictions on pyramid height.
• When cheering at outdoor venues, it’s wisest to avoid stunts if the ground is wet from rain, mud, snow, lawn sprinklers, or any other reason.
• Take care of yourself so you can take care of your teammates. Keep yourself physically fit, get enough sleep, and eat a nutritious diet.

There’s no need to hang up your pom-poms. Learn to cheer safely so you won’t miss a single season. Keep moving, my friends!

– Alan

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