By Ryan Pierce
For years, there has been a debate on whether cheerleading is as dangerous as so many make it out to be. There are stories of broken necks, broken spines, and countless other debilitating injuries, but just how dangerous is it really? What makes it sound excessively dangerous to some, is the medical release all cheerleaders must sign before beginning their training.
Since the 1990’s, injuries involving cheerleading have for more than doubled according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. With cheerleaders no longer just standing on the sidelines for motivational support, the injury rates are uncomfortably high. Every year, maneuvers performed get just a little bit more dangerous. In more extreme cases, the more professional stunts can send the cheerleader over 20 feet in the air. On rare occasions, they are failed to be properly caught. Under these circumstances, neck injury chances are dangerously high.
In 2008 alone, there were 30,000 emergency room visits due to cheerleading related injuries. Competitive cheer accounts for over 60% of all high school sport injuries. Concussion rates have increased by approximately 26% between 1998 and 2008 in competitive cheer.
Thankfully there are many regulations and precautions that make competitive cheer against rival teams much safer. Something as simple as having a soft surface below your feet can reduce injury greatly.
Regulations from the American Academy of Pediatrics have been working hard towards banning formations in areas that lack proper matting, as well as acrobats of any kind on hard surfaces. This includes as having to conduct lower difficulty stunts perfectly before being able to move up to a more challenging stunt. Other regulations include mandatory pre-season physicals and training in spotting techniques.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics injuries tend to occur in cheerleading when:
The athlete does not have the proper physical conditioning
The coach or instructor is poorly trained
There is risk taking and poor decisions
There is a distinct lack of cushioning
Precautions to avoid injuries include:
Obey all rules and regulations
Prepare before attempting more difficult stunts
Be prepared for any emergency
There is no surefire way to prevent injuries, but these are all good examples of ways to reduce the chance of injury overall.
When interviewed, NEHS Cheerleading Coach Katie Brushett said, “You can never be too careful.” referring to the many regulations and safety measures taken for the cheerleaders. She described how each coach will take a safety course once a year to make sure they are still capable of enforcing and remembering these measures.
Katie Brushett mentioned that the cheerleading team does not regularly sustain more than 1-2 concussions annually. “You cannot put a number on injuries” said the coach after a brief discussion of how often the team is injured. This refers to how injuries are random, and do not happen frequently enough to give a solid average number on injuries of any specific origin. She also referred to how the cheerleaders must successfully perform a stunt 10 times perfectly, before being allowed to move up to anything more difficult.
The Cheerleaders perform regular vigorous exercise to be able to perform their stunts safely. Katie Brushett mentioned that as long as common sense surrounds the team, the chance of something going horribly wrong is near non-existent.
Many people today still see cheerleading as a dangerous practice, but the regulations and level of common sense seem to protect most cheerleaders from injury.