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Cheerleading and Injury Risk

Cheerleading officially declared a sport by the AMA

The American Medical Association recently declared cheerleading a sport, saying that the rigors and risks led them to the decision.  Dr. Mike Dockery works closely with UNC-Charlotte athletes and says that even with the safety measures that have been instituted in recent years, cheerleading has the highest rate when it comes to ratio of participants and number of injuries. He answered some questions about AMA’s recent ruling and what types of cheerleading injuries he sees.

Cheerleading has been around for a number of years, but how do you think it has changed?

The training regimen is increasing for cheerleaders, and it truly has become an activity that requires skill, agility and athleticism. Many programs now require running and other workouts, and while this helps with overall conditioning, it naturally results in some overuse injuries and accidents. Cheerleading itself has gotten more intense and competitive -- cheerleaders are often tossed high into the air, doing flips and turns.  Even with the safety of spotters, there is a risk of collision on the way down.

What types of cheerleading injuries do you see most frequently?

Luckily, the injuries we typically see haven't been catastrophic. Strains and sprains are the most common, especially ankle sprains and knee, low back, neck and wrist sprains and strains. The gymnastic moves and stunts that cheerleading now incorporates can cause more severe injuries including ACL tears, fractures, and shoulder and elbow dislocations.

Do injuries tend to happen because cheerleaders are pushed too hard by coaches and parents?

Both can be a factors in cheerleading injuries, but the most common problem we see in adolescents is overuse.  This is usually because they are doing too much (too frequently, and too long a duration). Parents and coaches can push too hard, and sometimes it is the child who just wants to push to emulate what they see in the media.   

Does early specialization in just one sport, like cheerleading, increase injury risk?

Specialization too early can be a problem because you’re training the body and muscles in the same way over and over, and the body is changing and growing. Sometimes kids and adolescents just need a rest from the sport. I often recommend cross-training, or completely taking time off. 

More information from a National Sports Medicine initiative aimed at reducing the frequency of these injuries is available here.

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