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Gimme a C: Catastrophic injuries and cheerleading

If you or your child participate in cheerleading, then you may be interested in knowing about the potential for catastrophic injury in the sport. Compared to other sports, cheerleading has a high rate of injuries. Some of the injuries can cause a person to suffer lifelong effects. This is a serious concern since most individuals who cheer are young people.

Families may not think that cheerleading injuries are a real concern, but they can be. Families should probably be on the watch for symptoms of head, neck and spinal injuries, and obtain treatment as soon as possible. Some kids report hiding their symptoms, so parents may need to be proactive. Parents will likely also want to ensure that proper safety precautions are used during practice and competitions.

Cheerleading injury statistics

One source reported that cheerleading is a leading cause of catastrophic injury for female high school athletes. Cheerleading accounts for 65 percent of direct catastrophic injuries to female athletes, according to a study spanning 27 years, published by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Another report gave similar percentages for youth sports catastrophic injuries.

One orthopedic surgeon also concurs. In his practice, he treated numerous cheerleading injuries. He states that, in his view, cheerleading accounts for a higher percentage of injuries, with more injuries occurring as an athlete attempts more complex tumbling.  

Common cheerleading injuries

The most common cheerleading injuries occur because of tumbling. These include hand, wrist and arm injuries. Cheerleaders also experience broken ankles, feet and joint strain. The most dangerous types of injuries include concussions, brain injury, spinal cord injury and paralysis.

Some cheerleaders report suffering an injury without awareness and noticing the damage later. One individual broke her nose at practice and was not aware for weeks following. A person who suffers a concussion may not understand what is happening, due to the injury affecting the brain. A person may also feel the pressure to perform and continue despite an injury.


The high levels of sports injuries ranging from catastrophic to minor associated with cheerleading have given rise to precautions. Some sports clubs and schools now require cheer coaches to pass certain certifications. A national policy requires the use of mats for tumbling practice so that individuals do not fall onto hard surfaces.

Cheerleaders and parents of cheerleaders may wish to investigate the policies of the club or school district to ensure that it protects the athlete's safety. Once a person is aware of the safety rules, he or she may also wish to observe a practice to ensure that the organization is following safety protocols.

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