As Cheerleaders Take More Risks, Cheerleading Head Injuries Rise

In November 2012, an NBA cheerleader fell on her head while doing a stunt at a basketball game. She suffered mild head injuries, a broken rib and broken vertebrae. Her fall is not the first of its kind in a sport that is becoming increasingly dangerous. In fact, according to Dr. Jeff Mjaanes, a sports medicine pediatrician, "Cheerleading is probably the highest risk sport for a catastrophic head and neck injury."

Come again? Cheerleading? Dangerous?

Cheerleading is not what it used to be. It used to be that people went to a football or basketball game to see the players, and the cheerleaders waved pom-poms and performed mild lifts. In recent years, however, cheerleading has taken on a life of its own. No longer just on the sidelines, cheerleaders dance, do flips and perform death-defying acrobatics — all without a net. When a routine goes off without a hitch, it is a sight to behold.

Yet, when the routine fails, it can have a devastating impact, and cause irreparable harm to those involved. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), pediatricians have seen an increase in cheerleading injuries, which seems to match the increasingly competitive nature of the sport. Most of the injuries are still of the typical nature — broken bones and sprains.

There is also an increase, however, in severe injuries such as brain injuries and concussions. While overall, catastrophic injuries are still low in comparison to other sports, the percentage of cheerleaders injured continues to grow, which indicates that additional rules need to be put in place to protect cheerleaders.

"It's not a sport"

One of the main obstacles to regulating cheerleading is that many schools and districts do not consider cheerleading a sport. Currently, only 29 state high school associations recognize cheerleading as a sport.

Since it does not carry that recognition, schools and districts have not had to implement any rules regarding what can and cannot be done. This allows cheerleading squads to create routines that are increasingly risky. Until schools recognize cheerleading as a sport, it is up to the mentors and parents of cheerleaders to set some ground rules for the sport.

Dos and Don'ts

Some recommendations from the AAP regarding how to keep cheerleaders safe include:

  • Giving cheerleaders annual physicals and access to conditioning coaches
  • Not allowing a cheerleader who might have suffered a brain injury or concussion back onto the floor without a doctor's clearance
  • Training for spotting and a stair-step approach to adding more complex moves and stunts into routines — a difficult routine should not be included if the participants are not proficient
  • Allowing cheerleaders to perform pyramids and stunts on foam or grassy surfaces only

Cheerleading can be a wonderful experience for its participants, but one false step or slip can lead to a painful, or possibly catastrophic injury. Those injured in a cheerleading mishap should seek guidance from an injury attorney. They may be able to recover compensation for their injuries, including medical bills and other expenses.

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