Today, more than 500,000 girls are participating in high school cheerleading. More than 30,000 of them “are treated in emergency rooms each year, a number that has tripled since 1980,” according to Neil N. Jasey, M.D., Director of Brain Injury Rehabilitation at Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation, in West Orange, N.J.
“We see a wide range of injuries, from strains and sprains to the ankle, knee and wrist to serious neck and back injuries, as well as a concerning number of concussions,” he said.
Of significant note is that “According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, fast-paced floor routines and physically demanding stunts, including pyramid-building, flips and aerial exercises, account for 42% to 60% of all injuries and 96% of all concussions.” And those are numbers that may well increase with time.
Just as in other contact sports, it’s time in the sport of cheerleading to place more emphasis on proper training, taking the necessary precautions, and avoiding unnecessary risks. Above all, hiding an injury and getting back on top of that pyramid may be macho, but the long term effects can be devastating.
The Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation offers the following safety tips to keep cheerleaders on the floor or on the sidelines:
• Begin training well in advance of the season, maintain a healthy diet and get adequate rest.
• Practice areas should have a softer surface or make use of mats for learning new routines.
• Don’t rush. Perfect lower-level and less complicated skills before moving on to more difficult ones. Attempting a stunt beyond one’s skill level is foolish.
• Stretching is important—before and after a practice, game or event.
• Footwear is important. Wear shoes properly fitted, with rubber-soles that provide adequate cushioning and support.
• Whether practice or competition, address any pain factor you encounter. Immediately get appropriate medical attention.
• Remember, when it comes to concussions, the signs may not present themselves immediately. Err on the sign of caution. Get checked out at once.
• A pre-season physical that includes a cognitive assessment, such as ImPACT testing, should be performed. Establishing a baseline “point of reference” can greatly simply the diagnosis of a brain injury.