Cheerleading received some negative attention in recent years over injury concerns. In fact, a 2003 study suggested
that more than half of the catastrophic injuries suffered by girls occurred in cheerleading.
Compared to other high school sports, is cheerleading as dangerous? With over 3.5 million kids six years old and older participating – and approximately 400,000 participating at the high school level – it is important that we know what the injury risks really are to counsel athletes and parents and to take steps to prevent injuries.
Data on cheerleading injuries
Authors of a study recently published in the journal Pediatrics collected data from high schools across the United States as part of the High School Reporting Information Online, a sports injury surveillance system used to collect injury data in a variety of sports. Athletic trainers collected data on injuries in cheerleading between the 2009-2010 and 2013-2014 school years and found some encouraging news:
• Out of 22 sports, cheerleading ranked 18th in overall injury rate, with a rate of 0.71 injuries per 1000 athlete exposures.
• Concussions were the most common injury, making up almost one third of all injuries (31.1%).
• Concussion rates in cheerleading were lower than in all other sports, including all girls’ sports.
• Stunts accounted for just over half of all injuries (53.2%), while tumbling and pyramids caused much fewer injuries.
• While over one third of injuries resulted in absences of less than one week, 16.2% of the injuries led to an absence greater than three weeks or to medical disqualification. Only gymnastics had a higher proportion of injuries with significant time loss.
Steps to prevent injuries in cheerleading
This study should be encouraging to the young athletes and their parents and coaches. The overall rate of injuries is low compared to most other high school sports. When injuries do occur, they can be serious and result in a lengthy absence or even medical disqualification. Care must be taken to keep cheerleading as safe as possible for the athletes.
Steps taken in recent years by the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators and others have likely contributed to the lower injury rates. Enforcing rules about stunts, like basket tosses, and pyramids as well as education of coaches are significant steps in the right direction.
Currie DW, Fields SK, Patterson MJ, et al. Cheerleading Injuries in United States High Schools. Pediatrics. 2016;137(1):e20152447.
Boden BP, Tacchetti R, Mueller FO. Catastrophic cheerleading injuries. Am J Sports Med. 31(6): 881-8, 2003.