News | Published November 29, 2012

Preventing cheerleading injuries

Today's cheerleaders are great athletes that combine cheering, gymnastics and dancing to perform some amazing stunts. They deserve and should receive the same requirements and protections as other high school athletes and, personally, I'm glad that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has come out with guidelines to support this.

The AAP's policy statement, Cheerleading Injuries: Epidemiology and Recommendations for Prevention was released in the November issue of Pediatrics, and reported by Medical News Today.

The report states that since 2007, there have been approximately 26,000 cheerleading-related injuries in the United States each year and cheerleading accounts for 66 percent of all catastrophic injuries in high school female athletes over the past 25 years.

"Most serious injuries, including catastrophic ones, occur while performing complex stunts such as pyramids," according to Jeffrey Mjaanes, MD, FAAP, FACSM, member of the AAP Council on Sports Medicine & Fitness and co-author of the new AAP guidelines. "Simple steps to improve safety during these stunts could significantly decrease the injury rate and protect young cheerleaders."

The AAP makes key recommendations for preventing injuries, including:

  • Cheerleading should be designated as a sport in all states, allowing for benefits such as qualified coaches, better access to medical care and injury surveillance.
  • All cheerleaders should have a pre-season physical, and access to qualified strength and conditioning coaches.
  • Cheerleaders should be trained in all spotting techniques and only attempt stunts after demonstrating appropriate skill progression.
  • Pyramid and partner stunts should be performed only on spring/foam floor or grass/turf. Never perform stunts on hard, wet or uneven surfaces. Pyramids should not be more than two people high.
  • Coaches, parents, and athletes should have access to a written emergency plan.
  • Any cheerleader suspected of having a head injury should be removed from practice or competition and not allowed to return until he or she has clearance from a health professional.