Cheerleading is a popular form of physical activity in the US with an estimated 2.8 million elementary and middle school children participating in the sport each year. While pom-poms and fancy uniforms may define cheerleading for some, the activity actually involves an enormous amount of athletic skill and conditioning.
Cheerleaders need to develop a lot of core strength, and they also need strong legs and arms. It requires a lot of stretching and conditioning to develop the stamina needed to be a cheerleader. Additionally, cheerleading involves grace, flexibility, and balance, along with the ability to memorize often-complicated routines. Cheerleaders often practice jumps and flips characteristic of gymnastics. They need a lot of stamina and to be energetic and creative, thinking of new ways to build enthusiasm and team spirit.
Common injuries that cheerleaders may experience are sometimes divided into two groups, traumatic and overuse injuries. Common traumatic injuries include anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury, ankle sprains, and wrist fractures. Overuse injuries among cheerleaders include tendonitis in both the shoulder and wrist. While head and neck injuries may be of greater concern due to potential long-term damage, they account for only about 7% of the total number of cheerleading-related injuries.
Cheerleading squads often divide kids into flyers and bases. The flyers are the kids who launch themselves into the air to do stunts, while the bases hold and catch the flyers, propelling and lifting them as needed. Injuries resulting from trauma occur more frequently among high-flyers, while overuse injuries are more common for base cheerleaders trying to support.
To prevent cheerleading injuries, strengthening is an important part of regular practice. Strength exercises are particularly important for your child if he or she is involved in cheerleading for more than one season in a row, as this increases the risk of injury due to overuse.
If your child has a cheerleading overuse injury, it is important that they receive a prompt diagnosis along with physical therapy. A board-certified orthopedic surgeon can quickly and effectively diagnose a sports injury due to overuse. Cross training and aquatic therapy are sometimes recommended for quick healing. If your child sustains a traumatic injury due to cheerleading, such as an anterior cruciate ligament tear or wrist fracture, she may need orthopedic surgery.
As always, it is more desirable to prevent a sports injury in the first place than to suffer the aftermath of a painful injury. Learn more about preventing common cheerleading-related sports injuries, such as an ACL injury.
ACL injury prevention programs are often very effective, focusing on things like strengthening the posterior chain, lower back muscle groups, and proper landing mechanics.