Cheerleading is evolving into a more athletic and competitive sport for many schools, even though it used to be considered a sideline activity. Experts say concussions now top the list of injuries sustained by high school cheerleaders. One recent study shows that cheerleading ranks 18th-lowest out of 22 high school sports in terms of injury rate. But of all the sports studied, cheerleading ranked second – behind gymnastics – in the proportion of injuries that resulted in an athlete being benched for at least three weeks or for the entire season. The study, which examined data from a national high school sports injury surveillance system between 2009 and 2014 study published in the Journal for Pediatrics says 31% of cheerleading injuries are concussions. What’s even scarier is that many cheerleaders don’t report their injuries. However, the study says, concussion rates were significantly lower in cheerleading (with 2.2 per 10,000 athlete-exposures) than all other high school sports combined (3.8 per 10,000 exposures) and all other girls’ sports combined (2.7 per 10,000 exposures).
Dr. Andrew Russman of Cleveland Clinic says that like any sport, cheerleading has risk for injury and it’s important for participants to be aware of that risk. “Being aware that stunting itself carries this risk, especially for the flyer, the young person that’s being tossed high into the air, and the subsequent being caught by somebody else and landing either on the ground or colliding with another person that’s supposed to catch them,” explains Dr. Russman. A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury caused by a bump, jolt, or blow to the head that causes the brain to bounce around or twist inside the skull. Doctor Russman says the highest concussion risk in cheerleading is usually for the “flyer,” but cheerleaders can also be injured during pyramids and tumbling exercises.
Whether cheerleading is classified as a sport or an extra-curricular activity varies from state to state. Dr. Russman says that it’s important for organizations who incorporate stunting and tumbling into cheering to have the same medical resources available and follow the same concussion protocols as other sports.
Any person who suffers a concussion needs to be evaluated by an appropriate concussion provider and allowed proper recovery time before resuming activity.
We expect that most local high schools report little to no concussion injuries with their cheerleaders, but safety experts fear many concussions are never reported in the first place. Chronic headaches, memory problems and early dementia are common results of suffering multiple concussions.