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Experts say preventive measures are needed to reduce cheerleading injuries
10.22.2012According to the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP), a large number of young women have taken up cheerleading as a pastime during the last 25 years. Meanwhile, two-thirds of all severe injuries to teenage athletes that occurred during this time were due to cheerleading.
For this reason, the organization released the study Cheerleading Injuries: Epidemiology and Recommendations for Prevention, which will be published in the journal Pediatrics. The researchers strongly encourage coaches and school officials to apply the included guidelines and treat cheerleading safety with the same seriousness as they do sports like football and hockey.
The researchers note that as cheerleading has become more competitive, the stunts and routines have been putting athletes in danger of injuring their legs, head or neck. Meanwhile, cheerleaders are at significantly high risk, when compared to other athletes, for an accident that could lead to brain damage, paralysis and death. While the majority of cheerleading injuries relate to sprains, approximately 5 percent are concussions, while head and neck trauma accounts for 15 percent of all cheerleading-related injuries. Most of these incidents occur during routines that involve intensive gymnastic or aerial feats.
"Cheerleading has become extremely competitive in the past few years, incorporating more complex skills than ever before," said co-author of the guidelines Cynthia LaBella, a pediatric sports medicine specialist at the AAP Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness. "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."
To lessen the odds cheerleaders will require the attention of emergency department physicians to provide emergency medicine for a serious injury, the AAP recommends that cheerleading be recognized as an official sport in all 50 states, as well as by the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Cheerleaders should undergo a physical examination before the competitive season begins, and receive better education about strength and conditioning training. Pyramids more than two people high are discouraged by the researchers, as is performing any stunt on a floor that isn't made of foam or grass. In addition, coaches and parents should know about a designated emergency plan, and cheerleaders with head injuries should be kept off the squad until a doctor tells them they're safe for cheerleading.
AACCA rep weighs in on statement from AAP
Speaking to Reuters, Jim Lord, executive director of the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators (AACCA) said his organization has made some similar recommendations in the past. However, he noted that some cheerleaders only participate occasionally, as opposed to regularly, and that could make it difficult for the pastime to be recognized as a sport in certain states.
"Regardless of the term, we have to get to the point where they are treated like athletes and it's seen as an athletic activity," Lord told the news source.
Lord went on to say that he was absolutely opposed to the notion of doing tricks on foam mats. Performing on a squishy terrain could throw a cheerleader's balance off, and Lord says this would actually cause more injuries.
But the two organizations both told Reuters that, as they have the same long-term goals, whatever minor disagreements they have shouldn't impede their progress toward reducing the amount of cheerleaders incurring serious injuries.
"We have [the cheerleaders'] safety in mind and we know AACCA also has their safety in mind. I think those are easy things to come to agreement on," Cynthia LaBella told Reuters.
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