Cheerleading injuries send thousands of patients to the emergency room every year. The activity is highly athletic, incorporating elements of dance, gymnastics and physical stunts. And although cheerleading isn’t typically considered a risky sport, severe injuries can result from participation.
Cheerleaders who understand and use proper techniques and observe basic safety rules have an increased chance at avoiding a debilitating injury.
Common Cheerleading Injuries
Cheerleaders can suffer injury to any part of the body, but the wrists, ankles, shoulders, head and neck are the most commonly affected.
Muscle strains are frequently seen in cheerleaders. Often, these occur in the hips, legs or lower back. Ligament sprains in the ankles and knees are also common. Any of these may happen when landing from a jump or during a swift directional change.
Hand and wrist injuries are also common in cheerleaders. Generally, broken, sprained or strained fingers, hands and wrists are the result of a fall onto an outstretched hand, also known as a FOOSH injury.
Cheerleaders are also at risk for overuse injuries. Continuous training and performances or competitions places repeated demand on the muscles, ligaments and joints. This repetitive micro-trauma eventually can lead to injury.
Causes of Cheerleading Injuries
Though some injuries to cheerleaders can only be described as accidents, most are related to poor training or physical conditioning. Common causes include:
- Inadequate core and abdominal strength
- Insufficient arm and shoulder strength
- Poor flexibility and range of motion
- Lack of experience with a particular skill
- Performing skills above the current level of expertise
- Lack of proper safety equipment
Tips to Prevent Cheerleading Injuries
In an effort to reduce the number of serious injuries suffered by cheerleaders, high school and college governing boards have imposed restrictions on how stunts are performed. Adhering to these cheer stunt restrictions — which include limits on pyramid height, the proper thrower-flyer ratio and the necessary number of spotters for high lifts — is an essential step in preventing cheerleading injuries.
Having a qualified cheer coach is equally important. Coaches who have been certified have the training to teach cheerleaders the right techniques and safety precautions. Without a good foundation of knowledge, stunts and high-level tumbling are more likely to lead to injury.
As with any other sport, proper physical conditioning can also help decrease the risk of injury. Experts recommend:
- Resistance exercises for increased strength in the shoulders, stomach and lower back
- Regular stretching, Pilates or yoga exercises to boost flexibility
- Consulting with an athletic trainer or sports medicine specialist regarding personal strategies for injury prevention
In addition, cheerleaders frequently perform on surfaces with different levels of cushioning and stability, such as gymnasium floors, running tracks and football fields. For improved safety, tumbling and stunts should only be practiced on an even surface using the proper footwear and safety gear.
To learn more about how to prevent cheerleading injuries and other mishaps associated with sports performance, consult with a qualified physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist in your area.