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Doctors make recommendations for safe cheerleading
October 22nd, 2012
10:01 AM ET

Doctors make recommendations for safe cheerleading

Back in the 1800s, when cheerleaders first appeared on a field,  their main goal was to get fans to root for their team, either by yelling chants, clapping or using pom-poms.

But that's all changed. Now being a cheerleader is more demanding because many of these young men and women perform gymnastic stunts that are not only breathtaking but also dangerous.

Because of these dangers, the American Academy of Pediatrics has published a new policy statement, entitled “Cheerleading Injuries: Epidemiology and Recommendations for Prevention,” with a list of recommendations on how to keep cheerleaders trauma-free.

These days, cheerleaders are a lot like acrobats. And there's been some debate over whether cheerleading is a sport. Some cheerleading organizations say it does not meet criteria necessary to be considered a sport. But the AAP says it should be treated like one, because like other athletes, cheerleaders can sustain serious injuries.

“Cheerleading has become extremely competitive in the past few years, incorporating more complex skills than ever before,” said pediatric sports medicine specialist Dr. Cynthia LaBella, a member of the AAP Council on Sports Medicine & Fitness and co-author of the new guidelines. “Relatively speaking, the injury rate is low compared to other sports, but despite the overall lower rate, the number of catastrophic injuries continues to climb. That is an area of concern and needs attention for improving safety.”

Most cheerleading injuries involve sprains and strains to the lower extremities, but some can be more life-threatening. According to the report, concussions and other closed-head injuries account for 4 to 6% of all cheerleading injuries. And head and neck trauma make up approximately 15% of all cheerleading injuries seen in U.S. emergency rooms.

That’s because cheerleading requires physically demanding skills, such as pyramid building, flipping, tossing, lifting, kicking and catching people in the air. According to the report, these stunts account for 42 to 60% of all injuries, and 96% of all concussions. The paper also notes that cheerleading is one of the highest-risk sporting events for direct catastrophic injuries that can result in permanent brain injury, paralysis or death, especially at the college level.

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

Video: The crazy world of cheerleading

The AAP says cheerleading should be considered a sport in all states and subject to the same rules and regulations that other sports follow.

They also recommend cheerleaders have physicals before each season to make sure they are strong enough to participate as well as be supervised by qualified coaches who have been trained in proper spotting for gymnastics and other stunts.

The AAP also believes cheerleaders should limit their stunts, as well as avoid hard surfaces when performing them. And like any other athlete, cheerleaders should be checked and monitored for concussions if they have a head injury.

The AAP urges coaches, parents and school officials to follow injury-prevention guidelines, develop emergency plans and ensure cheerleading programs have access to the same level of medical care and injury surveillance as other sports.


soundoff (28 Responses)
  1. Cigarellos

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    October 22, 2012 at 15:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Diane Bailey

    The only reason cheerleading is NOT classified as a sport is because schools don't want to pay for certified coaches. It's long over due. I don't know how many times I have seen a teacher or parent with absolutely no qualifications pushing kids to do stunts that they don't have a clue how to teach!

    October 22, 2012 at 19:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Choppertrash

    "Cheerleading" is the silliest damn thing I've ever heard of!

    October 23, 2012 at 07:50 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Gaydar

      Warning......Warning...........Warning!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      October 23, 2012 at 11:01 | Report abuse |
    • rick

      i agree....right there with a bunch of kids trying to take a ball across a line, or putting a ball in a hoop

      October 23, 2012 at 16:54 | Report abuse |
  4. David

    How come the men can "chear lead" in clothes, but the girls do it in bikinis?

    Creepy 40+ year old men lusting after late-teen girls, is the MAIN reason I would never allow my daughter to participate in this crap.

    October 23, 2012 at 08:57 | Report abuse | Reply
    • CW

      You nailed it.

      October 23, 2012 at 13:27 | Report abuse |
    • rick

      Not to mention creepy 40+ year old men living vicariously through kids, while wearing the jerseys to delude themselves that they are part of the team

      October 23, 2012 at 17:00 | Report abuse |
  5. Cheer Mom

    My daughter has cheered for 3 years now. She has cheer both competively and for her school. It is definitely a sport. The physical condition they have to be in to the stunts and tumbling is equal to if not more than any other sport. It teaches them teamwork, discipline, motivation and self-worth. Just because you cant make millions of dollars does not make it a non-sport. They work very hard for the SPORT they love. And the uniforms are beginning to be less 'skimpy' because they want to be taken more seriously.

    October 23, 2012 at 09:58 | Report abuse | Reply
    • CW

      is equal to if not more than any other sport....Highly doubtful.

      October 23, 2012 at 13:28 | Report abuse |
    • Jack

      Do they work as hard as the players dongs they take.

      October 23, 2012 at 14:30 | Report abuse |
  6. onestarman

    We have a Choice. Either we can decide as a Society that its FINE to have an Arena where we watch People MAIMED for our Amusement or we use some common sense to Prevent our Athletes and Sex Dolls from Traumatic Brain Injury. Why do we NEED to have little girls tossed into the air for our amusement? Just sick little Monkeys I guess.

    October 23, 2012 at 11:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. randy closet candy

    onestarman, "why do we NEED to have little girls tossed into the air for our amusement?" Why do we NEED your opinion? We have football and cheer leading because people (other than you) enjoy playing, watching and participating in sports. Pretty simple when you remove yourself from the equation isnt is.

    October 23, 2012 at 12:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Former Coach

    Why do we need to see grown men hit each other on the field also, or people shooting balls into hoops how about the boring ball in the hole? As a former Cheerleading Coach I am just glad these girls and guys had something to do with their time instead of being out on the street at least it is another way for them to spend their time.

    October 23, 2012 at 13:07 | Report abuse | Reply
    • rick

      "Why do we need to see grown men hit each other on the field also, or people shooting balls into hoops how about the boring ball in the hole?"

      Because we have become a sedentary society and this allows people the illusion that they are actually being active

      October 23, 2012 at 17:03 | Report abuse |
  9. DC

    uhm, keep two feet on the ground?

    October 23, 2012 at 15:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. TK

    Cheerleading is a multi-million dollar business for a select few companies. They don't want to see this physically demanding sport declared to be such because it will hurt their non-accredited bottom line. The danger to klids that these companies create with their lobbying is insane and moraly dubious

    October 23, 2012 at 16:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Nonsense

    Cheerleading a sport? I would not like to see that. I personally think all the flipping and tumbling is excessive and unnecessary. Really its for the performers and squad egos. I've never seen cheerleaders for PROFESSIONAL TEAMS (football, basketball, hockey, baseball) EVER do these types of stunts. It seems that cheer squads that do this are irresponsible and just trying to "one-up " the other squad under poorly or non-regulated conditions. From the 50,000 foot level it seems like irresponsible and reckless management of college athletes.

    October 23, 2012 at 16:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Kavia

    i think that cheerleading should be a sport because it requires a person to be athletic and you have to learn alot of moves in order to make the team

    October 23, 2012 at 17:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. William

    I think that it is not necessary to do all of the flips and the pyramids. You can still cheer without them.

    October 23, 2012 at 17:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. DFWDelia

    I am so amazed by the awesome stunts the cheerleaders are doing today! Sadly, ever so often I see a cheerleader fall off a pyramid or get dropped and I think we have to consider limiting what they are allowed to do. Cheerleaders are supposed to lead cheers for their team, not risk their bodies for no good reason.

    October 24, 2012 at 02:17 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Cindi

      I would agree, they shoud not have to worry about injuries.

      January 7, 2013 at 07:25 | Report abuse |
  15. Lizard Lance

    I couldn't care less about the flips and pyramids and all the other nonsense. I just care about seeing pretty young ladies in little outfits jumping up and down. I can't help it. I'm a straight man.

    October 24, 2012 at 02:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Loyal Northern Democrate

    The best thing is to give them all a good fu@@ing beore they go out. That way the only act they have is dumping sperm into each others mouth or in a cerimonial bucket.

    October 25, 2012 at 00:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Loyal Northern Democrate

    The best cheerleaders come out of mexico where they were trained in donkey shows.

    October 25, 2012 at 00:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Sari

    I cheered in middle school and loved it. For me, it was a natural progression from gymnastics for a girl who got too top heavy for the parallel bars, but still loved to be active. That all came to a crashing halt when, during a build, my teammates dropped me on one knee onto pavement. I limped off the field in agony. But because cheerleading isn't considered a sport, my coach was perfectly within the law to tell me to either get back on the field or be kicked off the team- with no offer of medical attention whatsoever. Point of fact, she told me I would be kicked off if she found out I "went crying to my parents or the school nurse". I should have told her to stuff it and called my folks, but I was 14 and still trusted the authority figures in my life. So I did as I was told and cheered through the pain through that game and the next two seasons. By the time my mother forced me to go to the doctor (at my insistence in another town so my coach wouldn't find out), I had permanently damaged my knee for life. Now, I am nearly 30 and sometimes my knee simply collapses under me when I go to take a step. It hurts every time I work out, which has left me overweight and longing to move freely. Rainstorms mean loads of painkillers. All because a coach I trusted exploited the lack of legal sports protection and her position of authority for some purpose I am unaware of. If I had a little girl, I would not allow her to cheer until there were the legal protections for her to do so safely.

    October 25, 2012 at 04:02 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.