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Cheerleading Safety

Is your child doing cartwheels at the thought of being a cheerleader? It's not just a matter of standing on the sidelines looking good in a uniform. Today, it's often an athletic pursuit with a risk for injury. Cheerleading now demands increasingly difficult stunts and activities.

A study in the journal Pediatrics found that U.S. injuries linked to cheerleading more than doubled from 1990 to 2002. One big reason: Cheerleading has evolved into a sport that demands great strength, agility, and gymnastic skill.

Most injuries were minor sprains and strains, especially in the lower extremities. But head and neck injuries accounted for nearly 19 percent of injuries. Most cheerleading injuries occur during maneuvers such as pyramids and tosses and gymnastics moves.

Safety rules have been provided by the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators (AACCA). A safe program includes direct adult supervision, proper conditioning, skills training, and warm-up exercises. The following are some general guidelines for high school cheerleaders from the AACCA:

A. A qualified and knowledgeable adviser or coach must be on hand.

B. Practice sessions should be supervised and held in a safe and appropriate location.

C. Individual and squad ability levels should be recognized and stunts should be planned and performed accordingly. 

D. Participants should have proper training in cheerleading gymnastics.

E. Mandatory professional training in proper spotting techniques must be held.

F. Participants should be enrolled in a comprehensive conditioning and strength-building program.

G. No jewelry should be allowed.

H. Structured stretching exercise and flexibility routines should be held before and after practice sessions, game activities, and pep rallies.

I. Only appropriate surfaces should be used for tumbling, partner stunts, pyramids, and jumps.

J. Cheerleaders' skills should be assessed according to accepted teaching progressions and appropriate spotting should be used until all performers demonstrate skill mastery.

K. Hard and unyielding supports or rough edges or surfaces must be appropriately covered.

L. Athletic shoes, not gymnastic slippers, must be worn.

M. Props such as signs should be made of solid material or those with sharp edges/corners should be gently tossed or kept under control.

Since instituting more stringent safety rules, the number of emergency department admissions for cheerleading injuries has leveled off since 2005; until that year, the number of admissions had been increasing each year, according to the AACCA.