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Cheerleading is an incredibly popular sport. Over 3.5 million people cheer across America, ranging in age from six-years-old to adult. Although the sport of cheerleading is meant to support athletic teams, it has become an intense competition at the high school and collegiate levels. The new competitive dynamics have increased the risk for injury among young athletes.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates that cheerleading led to 16,000 emergency room visits in 2002. A report from the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research showed that more than 50% of all catastrophic injuries among female athletes occurred in cheerleading. Below are some recommendations that can help keep cheerleading safe for all ages.
Pyramid height restrictions have been implemented to keep cheerleaders safe and minimize the chance of injury. In high school, pyramids can be no more than two levels (one person must always be touching someone who is touching the floor), and in college, they may only be 2.5 body lengths. The base cheerleaders must remain in contact with the floor and with the cheerleaders they are supporting. The cheerleader suspended must not allow her head to fall below horizontal and she should not rotate on her dismount.
No more than four throwers should be involved in the toss, and one of the throwers must be behind the flyer. The flyer must not have her head fall below horizontal during the toss. Although not required, the use of floor mats when performing stunts could help reduce injuries.
Current rules do not mandate the use of landing mats, but they are encouraged, especially when practicing new stunts. It can be difficult to set up landing mats to perform acrobatic stunts during performances, but the use of mats should still be encouraged. If possible, routines that involve advanced gymnastic maneuvers, basket tosses, and pyramids should use mats, so these performances should be scheduled to allow enough time to set them up and remove the mats.
Cheering on wet surfaces, such as wet grass or turf, can lead to serious injuries. If these conditions exist, no pyramids, basket tosses, or other advanced gymnastics maneuvers should be attempted.
Most experts feel that the increase in injuries in the last few decades is due to the introduction of high-level gymnastics maneuvers into the sport. Cheerleading coaches should ensure that the participants understand and can perform basic skills before introducing more advanced maneuvers. When the individual cheerleaders and the teams master each level of skill, only then should they progress to more complex and dangerous stunts.
The USA Federation for Sport Cheering mandates the use of spotters for pyramids and basket tosses, and they should be used in both practice and competition. A spotter is required to be present for each cheerleader above shoulder level on pyramids. It is not enough to simply have spotters, but they must be adequately trained. A spotter must understand proper technique to protect the cheerleaders for the different stunts, and only well-trained spotters should be used for complex routines.
The American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Advisors has a cheerleading safety certification to help educate cheerleading coaches at all levels. It is designed to help the coaches promote cheerleading safety and implement safety measures for the complex stunts and maneuvers involved in the sport. The organization believes that only 30% of all the college and high school cheerleading coaches are certified, so encouraging your child’s coaches to obtain their safety certification is essential.
Check out more sports safety articles.
Written by: Jenny Van Meter, ATC, Certified Athletic Trainer, Sports Medicine for Young Athletes, Orthopedics Institute, Children’s Hospital Colorado. To find out more about cheerleading safety or treatment, visit our Orthopedic Institute website, or schedule an appointment at 720-777-6600. We are happy to consult with parents or referring providers before a patient is seen at Children’s Colorado.