Making current information available and accessible to high school cheerleaders enables athletes and coaches to improve the prevention, recognition, and treatment of cheerleading related injuries. Parents, coaches, and athletes should be educated about ways to reduce and recognize injuries in cheerleading. It is also important to have correct information and data specific to cheerleading and not exclusively rely on programs designed for other sports. Recently released cheerleading specific safety data shows what many have thought for quite some time; cheerleading, when done correctly, can be considered a safe sport.
In large part due to heightened awareness and education surrounding safety, cheerleading has experienced a major reduction in catastrophic injuries, according to data produced by the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research (the “NCCSIR”). From being a sport that was second only to football, NCCSIR director Kristen Kucera indicates that it’s become safer in the last two decades.
According to the NCCSIR, in 2017-2018, there were zero reported catastrophic injuries in cheerleading, compared with two reported during 2013-2018. The number of catastrophic injuries from cheerleading over the past 5 years is consistent with other girls’ high school sports, including track and field, softball, and gymnastics, and are lower overall than those for football, baseball, wrestling, and girls’ soccer. (Note: Data from 2018-2019 is not yet available.)
Data from the Consumer Products Safety Commission shows that in 2018 there were fewer emergency room visits for girls ages 14-18 for cheerleading (23,3511) than girls’ basketball (55,069), soccer (40,396), softball (31,095), and volleyball (29,774).
Further, according to the 2018-2019 High School RIO study conducted at Children’s Hospital Colorado for the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), cheerleading has consistently been among the lowest high school sports they study for the past ten years. The latest study for the 2018-2019 school year ranks cheerleading as the 17th lowest overall injury rate of the 20 sports studied. Emily Sweeney, a pediatric sports medicine doctor at Children’s Hospital Colorado recently told Time magazine, “Looking at the data that’s been published so far, the risk of cheer overall injuries is pretty low.”
This decrease in injuries is a collaboration of efforts across the board. State high school associations and governing bodies of college athletics like the NCAA and NAIA have increased training requirements. Educational training organizations that run cheerleading camps have expanded their safety programs. “Coaches, cheerleaders, parents, and administrators are recognizing the need for following safe practices. There’s more involvement from the medical community, researchers, and athletic trainers. Combine all of those things, and add on a few important rules changes, and you have a recipe for reducing injuries,” according to Jim Lord, Director of Education and Programs for USA Cheer.
The availability of safety education programs has expanded greatly. Organizations like the NFHS and CDC make available courses for heat illness, concussion awareness, and general sports first aid. USA Cheer makes available a risk management course that covers all facets of safety and well-being of the athlete as well as a recommended return to play (RTP) protocol.
There is an abundance of information available today about sports-related injuries and return-to-play, yet there is still much more knowledge to gain on the subject. Research is being updated daily to accommodate for new cases, advancements in technology, and parameter changes within cheerleading. Educating professionals is of the utmost importance to protect the life and sports career of the athlete. Moreover, healthcare professionals should be available to cheerleaders, just like any other athletes. Dr. Jeff Dugas, USA Cheer National Team Medical Director and USA Cheer Safety Council member says, “USA Cheer and the worldwide cheerleading community are committed to promoting that participants in our sport have access to the most efficient and highest quality care. We support the ideals of early access to appropriate care and early diagnosis of injury to ensure the best outcomes for our athletes.”
The latest research provides evidence that cheerleading is a safe and regulated activity for athletes. Today, safety measures continue to improve. Promoting safety remains the top priority for USA Cheer.
As cheerleading continues to see positive trends in safety and education, those involved in rules review, education, and furthering the safety and well-being of athletes, will remain vigilant and continue to promote new education and polices for the betterment of the sport. Within cheerleading, an inherent commitment to ensuring that all cheerleaders can participate in a safe and educational environment will remain the top priority.