Anyone who has been following Chearleading’s current trend understands that injuries are becoming a major problem. From 1990-2002, research has shown injuries in cheerleading to have doubled (This is with an 18 percent growth). Also, a study published in the journal Pediatrics estimates 208,800 young people ages 5 to 18 were treated at U.S. hospitals for cheerleading-related injures during the 13-year period. Most of the injuries were suffered by 12- to 17-year-olds; nearly 40 percent were leg, ankle and foot injuries.
How have these injuries increased so much in 13 years? The two reasons are increased acrobatic skills and lack of knowledge. Cheerleading has gone way past doing mainly cheers and chants. Now it has moved into doing complex tumbling passes and various acrobatic lifts (stunting). As always, as the skill level goes up, the risk of injury follows.
Unfortunately, the skill level is risng while the knowledge of proper safety requirements is falling. There is a general lack of information out there for coaches and their cheerleaders. For example, look up coaching football in a book store and you will see a great variety of books at your disposal. Do the same for cheerleading and the selection becomes limited. Even worse, most cheerleading books do not stress the importance of safety enough.
Do to these limited resources, many coaches and cheerleaders wind up trying to replicate a tumbling pass or acrobatic lift (stunt) they saw somewhere else. This leads only to an increased risk of failure and injury. Every tumbling pass and acrobatic lift (stunt) has its required technique and spotters (the people who insure the safety of the participant).
Cheerleading injuries can categorized into two basic types. These types are what we call purely accidental and preventable . Obviously, purely accidental injuries are the types that ,no matter what, they could not be stopped from happening. On the other hand, preventable injuries are the ones in which should have been foreseen and prevented. How do you tell the difference?
First of all, purely accidental injuries are the ones that are the most difficult to deal with. These types of injuries will happen when you least expect them to. Purely accidental injuries could be as simple as somebody doing a jump and then landing on their ankle sideways. Unfortunately, there is not much you can do to prevent this kind of injury as it was a pure accident that they landed that way. Another common accidental injury can be ACL tears in the knee. Sometimes a cheerleader will go to do a round-off for a tumbling pass and have their knee at a slightly wrong angle. Again, there is not much you could have done to prevent this type of injury.
Now, preventable injuries are the ones in which there was a lack of knowledge causing the injury. An example of this would be having a flyer (top person) dropped onto the ground. A flyer (top person) should never be allowed to hit the ground in any circumstance. Most preventable injuries are the result of having the wrong spotters (the people who insure the safety of the participant) or the lack of spotters. Preventable injuries are the direct result of lack of knowledge. These types of injuries should be unacceptable in any program.
Dangers and Cheerleading
Levels of Safety
There are three levels of safety/injury in the sport of cheerleading in the two different cheerleading sports. Cheerleading ranks as the most dangerous women’s sport in all safety areas. The first level of safety involves catastrophic injury in which involves permanent paralysis or death. The second level of safety involves injuries for which the athlete must receive hospital care. The third level of safety involves injuries which require missing or altering an athlete’s practice or competition schedule.
Height and Motion
There are logistical reasons why cheerleading is dangerous. Any activity involving height and motion involves the risk of injury. Cheerleading utilizes tumbling (motion) and basket tosses and pyramids (height and motion) and thus is inherently dangerous to some extent. Choosing to participate exposes cheerleaders to an increased risk of injury, including the risk of catastrophic injury.
Cheerleaders, except in competitions, perform on surfaces designed for an entirely different sport. Basketball floors and football fields were not designed with cheerleaders in mind to even a minor degree. Even the layout of most basketball and football (and other sports) facilities are not planned with a specific cheerleading area designated, so cheerleaders are stuck performing around the edges of anther sports playing area.
Failure to Warn
One of the legal liabilities of any sport and certainly any sports injury lawsuit involves the failure to warn the participants in the activity of the dangers of their participation. There seems to be little doubt that cheerleaders, especially young cheerleaders, and their parents are not sufficiently aware of the dangers they are being exposed to by participation in the sport of cheerleading. While we are not in favor of the sometimes recommended scare tactic methods of warning athletes of dangers (don’t create self-fulfilling prophecy psychology), there is no doubt that cheerleaders would be safer if they understood that safety practices are never to be bypassed.
Cheerleading has split into two distinct sports, although some programs perform and compete in both. Cheerleading used to be an athletic activity designed to act as a support system for other sports. There was more interest in boosting school and team spirit than in increasing skill difficulty. Cheer competitions changed all that as difficulty was introduced as an important factor in judging cheer competitions.
There has been a proliferation of cheerleading associations, matching the rise of the popularity of cheerleading competitions. Often, the primary motivation for the start-up, operation and management of cheerleading associations is financial. Coaching and safety considerations, other than at their own competitions, camps and clinics can often fall by the wayside when the primary association activities are financial.