By: Laurie Edwards for Knee1
Think being a cheerleader is all about waving pompoms and looking good in a short skirt? It’s much more than a mere school spirit activity. Today’s cheerleaders form human pyramids, catapult through the air and rely on gymnastics for a lot of their routines. But, the increased skill level doesn’t come without a cost – the harder the tricks, the greater the chance of injury, especially for females.
| Cheerleading Injuries by the Numbers|
The number of injuries between 1990 and 2002 increased by a whopping 110 percent
52 percent of injuries were sprains or strains
18 percent of injuries included soft tissue bruising
16 percent of injuries were fractures or dislocations
3 percent of injuries were lacerations, and another 3 percent were concussions
Those with fractures or dislocations were more likely than any other group to be admitted to the hospital for extended care
“Cheerleading is an important source of injury to girls, as evidenced by the fact that these injuries more than doubled during the 13-year period we studied,” said Brenda Shields, author of the study conducted by staff at the Center for Injury Research and Policy in the Columbus Children’s Research Institute at Columbus Children’s Hospital.
According to a recent study published in Pediatrics, an estimated 208,800 young people between the ages of five and 18 were treated at hospitals across the United States for cheerleading-related injuries. The bulk of injuries occurred in youth aged 12 to 17; of those injuries, nearly 40 percent were leg, ankle and foot problems.
The average age of the injured child was 14 and a staggering 97 percent of those injured were girls.
“It’s not just standing on the sidelines with pompoms going, “Rah, rah, rah.’ It uses gymnastics, and some stunts are clearly more dangerous than others,” said Dr. Barry Boden, an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in sports medicine in Rockville, MD.
The study used retrospective analysis on data from emergency room visits collected by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Experts caution that those rates of injury are even higher since not all children use the emergency room for treatment; others opt for team trainers or physician’s offices for medical help.
An important point when evaluating cheerleading safety is the fact that it is not a sanctioned sport by all high school athletic departments. As a result, coaches are not always properly trained, and facilities do not always have the necessary equipment; all of which can lead to more injuries.
Shields said that sometimes cheerleaders “practice in hallways and practice on hard surfaces instead of mats. So when they fall off a pyramid or from in the air and they land on hard surfaces, the chances for injury are drastically increased.”
As a solution to these concerns, the study suggests that all coaches get professional safety training. Researchers also recommend that high schools and cheerleading associations maintain uniform safety procedures and they even suggest forming a national database to track injuries more accurately.
Cheerleading’s popularity has surged in recent years; from 1990 to 2002, the participation grew by 18 percent, with an estimated 3.5 million children involved in it by 2002.
This surge is partly due to the increased popularity of televised cheerleading competitions, where the advanced tricks on TV can sometimes cause coaches and cheerleaders alike to try them themselves without adequate training.
“It’s not that the sport is dangerous, but it’s people trying skills they shouldn’t. Basket tosses are the most difficult skill you can do, but that doesn’t mean you should do them,” said Jim Lord, executive director of the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Advisors, a group that publishes a safety manual and teaches coach safety courses around the country.