Safety Tips for Cheerleaders: Tots to Teens
More than just cheering on a football team under the Friday night lights, cheerleading has become a highly competitive sport with routines that include increasingly difficult and dangerous stunts.
During the last decade, the popularity of competitive cheerleading increased dramatically thanks to ESPN-broadcast competitions and popular movies, like the 2000 film Bring It On.
A 2012 survey reported upwards of 500,000 high school cheerleaders across the country. The number is closer to 1 million participants when cheerleaders of all ages are included – some pick up pom-poms before entering grade school.
Unfortunately, the increase in participation and competition has led to an increase in injuries as well. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics:
- Cheerleading accounts for more than two thirds of catastrophic injuries in high school female athletes.
- The most common mechanisms of injury include basing/spotting, tumbling and falls from heights.
- Cheerleaders ages 5 to 11 are more likely to suffer a fracture or dislocation compared to 12 to 18 year olds.
- From 1998 to 2008, the concussion rates among high school cheerleaders increased by 26 percent each year – a rate greater than any of the other girls’ sports studied during that time period.
In an attempt to curb the number of catastrophic injuries in cheerleading, restrictions have been placed on stunts. They range from height restrictions in human pyramids to the thrower-flyer ratio to the number of spotters that must be present for each person lifted above shoulder level. However, in spite of these attempts to make cheerleading less dangerous, the number of cheerleading injuries has not decreased.
Here are some important safety tips for cheerleaders:
- Condition and train throughout the year. As with any sport, proper conditioning and training are important to minimize injury.
- Undertake a program of resistance exercises to gain strength in the lower back, stomach and shoulders. Consult a physical therapist for a customized training program aimed at injury prevention.
- Improve flexibility through stretching, yoga or Pilates activities.
- Participate in preseason physical screening programs to assure that you are healthy enough to compete.
- Use mats during practice sessions and as much as possible during competitions. (Unfortunately, many high school cheerleaders practice on gym floors or in hallways throughout the school when there is not a dedicated and safe place to practice.)
- Practice tumbling and stunt routines under the supervision of a qualified coach.
If injuries occur, immediately consult a health-care professional.
Good Shepherd Physical Therapy – Bethlehem/Performing Arts Rehabilitation Center  has a dedicated rehabilitation team who understand and cater to the unique needs of cheerleaders, dancers and other performing artists. Learn more .