Cheerleading has gained a reputation as a dangerous sport, thanks to its high-flying and high-risk maneuvers and the increasingly competitive spirit of the sport. Bruises and fractures are common, but a new U.S. study shows the most common injury in the sport is concussion.
Overall, cheerleading still ranks near the bottom of high school sports in terms of overall injury rate – with contact sports such as basketball, soccer, and hockey ranking highest – according to the new study published online today in the journal Pediatrics.
“Anecdotally, it’s pretty clear to most people over the past few decades that cheerleading has shifted from a sideline activity to a competitive sport itself. This may have resulted in an increase in injury,” said study author Dustin Currie, a doctoral student in epidemiology at Colorado School of Public Health at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.
“We only have five years of data … but I don’t know whether to say it’s better for cheerleading to not become a more competitive sport,” he added. “If it’s getting more children to participate in athletics, it’s probably a net positive.”
Estimates from the U.S. National Federation of State High School Associations suggest around 400,000 students in the U.S. participate in high school cheerleading every year. That includes over 123,000 participating in competitive “spirit squads” which incorporate more risky stunts, pyramids, tosses, and jumps.
This study is the first to include cheerleading in a comparison of injury rates in high school sports. By using a large national sports injury database, Currie and his team saw that, despite an overall low injury rate within cheerleading compared to other sports, the injuries experienced in cheerleading are often more severe.
The report shows cheerleading was second to gymnastics in the percentage of injuries resulting in an athlete being benched for at least three weeks.
Within cheerleading, concussions were the most common injury, accounting for 31 percent of all injuries, however concussion rates were significantly lower in cheerleading compared to all other sports combined