Cheerleading now is considered a competitive sport and also one of the most dangerous recreational school activities, according to the National Center of Catastrophic Sport Injury Research. Cheerleading competition routines that include frequently dangerous stunts and complicated gymnastic moves are on the rise. As the stunts get more complicated, the risks and dangers increase. While the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators has outlined safety guidelines, accidents still occur.
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The National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research found that 56 percent of catastrophic injuries to female athletes between 1982 and 2007 were related to cheerleading. There were two fatal injuries, 13 injuries that led to paralysis and 29 very serious head or spinal injuries without paralysis. In the NCCSI report generated in 2009, cheerleading accounted for more than 70 percent of catastrophic injuries at the college level and almost 50 percent at high schools. Most serious injuries occur to the neck, head, skull, spine and face and happen during pyramid stunts and basket tosses.
As cheerleading stunts become more demanding at competitions and on the sidelines of athletic events, more injuries are reported. From 1990 to 2002, cheerleading-related emergency room visits more than doubled from 10,900 to almost 23,000. More than 70 percent of all cheerleading injuries were sprains and strains and the cheerleaders were treated and released without serious complications, according to the NCCSI.
Many cheerleading organizations agree that most injuries occur due to lack of training. Terry Zeigler of SportsMD says that one major reason injuries occur is because coaches who are not certified in gymnastics, stunts and tumbling often oversee cheerleading squads. To prevent accidents, college squads are required by the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Advisers (AACCA) to be coached by trained, certified professionals, and girls should be conditioned and ready for the stunts they are asked to perform. Teams should only perform using guidelines published by nationally recognized cheer organizations, such as the AACCA. Warm-ups and stretching are imperative before and after practice sessions.
The AACCA publishes safety guidelines to prevent injuries. Some guidelines include ensuring that spotting is mandatory for all squads during stunts, that no cheerleader is allowed to engage in a stunt with the intention of being caught or landing in an inverted position and that all stunts must be approved by a trained coach. Following these guidelines reduces treatable sprains and bruises and catastrophic injuries.