Cheerleading Among The Safest Sports

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They may by "sexy, cute," and "popular, to boot," but today's cheerleaders are also serious athletes who risk life and limb to get you pumped. And while their injuries are less frequent than most other high school sports, according to new findings, the injuries they sustain can be among the most severe in all of athletics.

"Although the overall injury rate remains relatively low, cheerleading has accounted for approximately 66% of all catastrophic injuries in high school girl athletes over the past 25 years," reports a new study published in the journal Pediatrics, from the Colorado School of Public Health at the University of Colorado's Anschutz Medical Campus.

The researchers looked at 22 high school sports. Cheering came in as the 18th most dangerous sport on the list. Cheerleading has earned a dangerous reputation in years past, with publications such as the New York Post and The Washington Post writing of its dangers. As reported by Science Daily, "a total of 752 female cheerleader injuries occurred in 1,090,705 'athletic exposures,' or one athlete participating in one practice, competition, or performance. Most happened during practice."

While this is a small fraction of the 3 million-plus cheerleaders performing routines, those who do sustain injuries can get really, really hurt. "The most common mechanisms of injury are basing/spotting (23%), tumbling (14% to 26%), and falls from heights (14% to 25%)," says the Pediatrics report, the lead author of which is Dustin Currie. "Stunting accounts for 42% to 60% of all cheerleading injuries and 96% of concussions and closed-head injuries. Pyramid stunts are responsible for the majority of head/neck injuries (50% to 66%)."

There are several big factors when it comes to cheer-related risks. Among them are the performing of complicated stunts, cheering on hard surfaces, high BMI (body mass index), and lack of proper supervision from a coach with adequate experience and training. And why doesn't cheerleading —which is comprised of 96% females, according to the study — have stronger guidelines to prevent participants' safety? It's not actually considered a sport in much of the U.S.

"Although most high schools and colleges have cheerleaders, only 29 state high school athletic associations recognize cheerleading as a sport," the report reads. "...and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) does not include competitive cheerleading in its list of sponsored sports."

The study's researchers suggest one way to do right by our cheer squads is to classify cheerleading as a sport. "As athletes, cheerleaders should have access to the same safety standards as any other sport," Currie told Science Daily. "That means, for example, having a qualified coach present at every practice, a designated space in which to practice, and appropriate safety measures like mats and spotters when learning new skills."

Spirit fingers to that!

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