How to Prevent Common Cheerleading Injuries

prevent common cheerleading injuries
By Fara Rosenzweig

More than just a jumps and chants, cheerleading is an athletic sport filled with stunts, jumps, tumbling and dance. Many times cheerleading is looked at as an athletic team that supports other sports, but its intense competitions and gymnastic-style cheerleading routines, mainly at the high school and college levels, creates a whole new dynamic, increasing the risk of injury.

In fact, cheerleading is ranked the 16th sport with the highest sports-related injuries, according to the Orthopedics Institute of Children’s Hospital Colorado.

Common Cheerleading Injuries

    Cheerleading injuries tend to be more severe, making up more than half of the catastrophic injuries in female athletes. Common cheerleading injuries affect all areas of the body:
  • Wrists
  • Shoulders
  • Ankles
  • Head and Neck
  • Back

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 53 percent of the common injuries are sprains and strains, followed by abrasions/contusions/hematomas (13 to 18 percent). About 10 to 16 percent of the injuries are fractures or dislocations, 4 percent are lacerations and punctures, while only 3 to 4 percent are concussions/head injuries.

Like any sport, if one sustains an injury, the first step to recovery is to R.I.C.E (Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate). Then seek medical attention for proper diagnosis.

Preventing Common Cheerleading Injuries

In attempt to reduce the risk of injury, cheerleaders must follow the stunt restrictions, which vary 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, according to stopsportsinjuries.org.

For pyramids, the height regulations are two body lengths for the high school level and 2.5 body lengths for the college level, with the base cheerleader in direct contact with the performing surface. Base supporters must remain stationary and the suspended person is not allowed to be inverted or rotate on dismount.

Basket toss stunts, when a cheerleader is thrown into the air (sometimes 20-plus feet) can only have four throwers. The person flyer (cheerleader who’s being tossed) can’t drop her head below a horizontal plane with the torso. A spotter, one of the throwers, must remain behind the flyer at all times during the stunt.

All jewelry must be taken off and stunt and tumbling practices should be done on mats. If one is tired, injured, or unfocused, do not attempt any sort of stunt—as this is unsafe.

Bases, spotters and flyers must go through all safety precautions before attempting any stunt, and coach supervision is a must.

To prevent strains and sprains, cheerleaders should partake in a strength-training plan to strengthen the back, legs, core and arms.

Cheerleaders should practice yoga, Pilates or a stretching routine daily to improve flexibility, which can help prevent injury.

Wearing protective joint braces and compression gear can help prevent re-injury to an already injured area.

When practicing jumps, cheerleaders should practice a soft landing and with knees bent—this will protect the knee joints. Flyers should come out of a stunt with knees bent too.

For more regulations and rules to prevent injuries—specific to stunts and tumbling, visit the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators.