March is National Cheerleading Safety Month
Cheerleading accounts for about 65% of all injuries in high school or college females and is the leading cause of catastrophic injury in young female athletes, according to the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research. The CPSC shows that rates of cheerleading injuries have increased over the past twenty years, from about 5,000 in 1980 to almost 28,000 in the past few years.
Cheerleading has come a long way from the days of standing on the sidelines and rousing the crowd with pom-poms. Today, cheering is a demanding sport with increasingly complex lifts, throws, and gymnastic-type moves.
The November 2009 Journal of Athletic Training recently published a series of three studies that examine cheerleading risks and resulting injuries.
The first study examined fall-related injuries that were reported from 412 different cheer teams taking part in official practices, competitions, or events. The most common injuries were strains and sprains and 85% took place during a practice. The majority of the injuries (89%) came from trying to do a stunt or pyramid with some girls falling from as high as 11 feet above the ground. 51% of injuries occurred among high school cheerleaders.
A second study of cheerleader injuries examined overall injuries based on the type of cheerleading team and events over the course of a year. Again, about 83% of injuries occurred during a practice, 52% occurred during a stunt attempt, and 24% happened while a cheerleader was “basing” or spotting one or more people. College-level cheerleaders were more likely to have a concussion and all-star cheerleaders were more likely to suffer a fracture or dislocation.
The third study examined the surfaces on which the cheerleaders practice and how they risk potential head injuries. Indoors, only spring floors and landing mats that were 4 inches thick resting on foam floors had enough impact absorption for level 2 stunts, which include some tumbling moves and tosses. Outside, higher grass and wetter soil provided more absorption.
Both the National Cheer Safety Foundation and the American Academy of Cheer Coaches and Administrators have resources available for both school athletic programs and parents on keeping cheerleaders safe. Among the tips:
Make sure coaches are qualified and certified.
At the middle school and high school level, coaches may be professionally trained, or they may be just a teacher who has volunteered to supervise the team. Make sure the coach is certified by a cheerleading safety body, such as the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators. It is also recommended that the coach have experience in first aid and CPR training.
Be sure your child’s practice space is safe.
Foam mats should always be used for training. Stunts should not be practiced on a hard basketball gym floor. Spotters – at least two - should stand by when a new stunt or gymnastic move is being learned.
Conditioning is key.
Good coaches have experience in fitness, strength, and flexibility training programs to ensure cheerleaders are in good physical condition. Weight and strength training in particular can help to prevent typical wear-and-tear injuries, like tendonitis