Introduction to the Issue
The origination of cheerleading in this country has been traced back to supportive fans right here at the University of Minnesota in 1898 (Boden, Tacchetti, & Mueller, 2003). Unfortunately, the activity of cheerleading, both in high school and collegiate settings, has become much more complicated today. Injuries resulting from cheerleading, both minor and severe, are increasing at an alarming rate and there has not been enough done to prevent these regrettable injuries.
Most people consider cheerleading to be a relatively safe sport, especially compared to other contact sports, like football (Magna’s Campus Legal, 2006). However, cheerleading injuries, especially catastrophic injuries, have been dramatically rising over the last twenty-five years and are continuing to do so (Magna’s Campus Legal, 2006). It is estimated that there are about one million participants in cheerleading activities in the United States, ranging from elementary school through professional sport levels (Jacobson, Redus, & Palmer, 2005). Four-hundred and fifty thousand of those participants are in high schools and colleges. Cheerleading has quickly become more appealing and is now one of the four most popular organized sports activities for females in high school (Boden, Tacchetti, & Mueller, 2003).
Even though the number of participants in cheerleading activities is increasing, the rates of injuries are still disproportionately high. The National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research (NCCSI) has included a special section on severe cheerleading injuries in their 2007 annual report (Mueller & Cantu, 2007). The report has indicated that cheerleading is the leading cause of direct catastrophic injuries for all high school and college females, accounting for 55% of all high school direct catastrophic injuries, and 59.3% of comparable college injuries.
The 2007 NCCSI Annual Report also indicated that cheerleading injuries are a major cause of all sports-related fatalities for females (Mueller & Cantu, 2007). There were 75 direct deaths reported among high school and college female athletes from the fall of 1982 to the spring of 2007. Forty-two of these deaths resulted from cheerleading injuries. High school deaths totaled 25, and college deaths totaled 17. The majority of the deaths that were not caused by cheerleading were the result of gymnastics. The two sports share a variety of dangerous movements (e.g. tumbling).
There is a wide variety of injuries experienced by cheerleaders, varying also in severity. In an attempt to identify those most likely to experience injury and what type of injury is most common, Jacobson, Redus, & Palmer conducted a study of 30 Division IA schools in 2005. The median age of active cheerleaders responding was just over 20 years, and 78% of all respondents had been injured at some point in their cheerleading career. Most had been injured multiple times, with a median of 3.5 total career injuries and 16.7% reporting 5 or more career injuries. Roughly 87% of the injuries required treatment by a doctor and 40% required surgery. There is definitely a large amount of serious injuries resulting from this once relatively harmless activity.
The most common site for injury is the ankle (44.9%). Other sites include wrist/hand (19.3%), back (9.2%), and knee (11.2%). Varying sources cite that head and neck injuries, which tend to be much more serious, account for between 7 and 10% of all cheerleading-associated injuries (Jacobson, Redus, & Mueller, 2005). As the data indicates, cheerleading injuries occur most often in females. This is predominantly because the overwhelming majority of cheerleading participants are female. Females are also more likely to be the ones that perform the most dangerous aspect of stunts, such as being a “flyer” (one who is tossed or held up in the air by other cheerleaders). Data is unclear on male cheerleading injuries. Sometimes they are even intentionally left out of statistical studies (Mueller & Cantu, 2007).
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