The high percentage of catastrophic injuries in cheerleading

Cheerleading injury categories include spinal cord contusions, paralysis, severe head trauma, skull fractures, permanent brain injury and death. Of all high school catastrophic injuries to female athletics, over 50 percent occur during cheerleading.

A 17-year study by The National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury found that cheerleading was the cause of 65 percent of catastrophic injuries for all high school age female athletes and resulted in 78 percent of all catastrophic injuries to college female athletes. Only football ranks higher than cheerleading in high school athletics danger.

Why is the injury rate for female cheerleaders disproportionately high?

A squad of young women originally performed cheerleading for their school's sports teams on the sidelines of football fields or basketball courts. Today, cheerleading has evolved into a competitive sport requiring complex acrobatic and gymnastic skills. The degree of stunt risk continues to increase. Often, cheerleading competitions occur independently around the country similar to gymnastics competitions, and routines include complicated and dangerous stunts.

The American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine's 2017 newsletter spotlights the disproportionate rate of cheerleading injuries among all injuries sustained by female athletes. Injuries occur when schools do not provide highly trained adult coaches or practice takes place on inappropriate surfaces without properly trained spotters. Often, medical assistance is not available at the certified first aid and CPR levels. Schools do not train adult supervisors to recognize brain injuries, neck injuries or even broken bones. School budgets often cannot accommodate the necessary safety equipment, such as designated gym practice areas with spring-loaded floors.

Who is responsible when a catastrophic injury occurs?

Courts have consistently ruled that the schools are responsible regarding the health and well-being of cheerleaders. Athletics programs must select, train and supervise coaches, provide instruction in correct skill techniques and make sure that cheerleading takes place in a safe area with appropriate protective equipment. Schools must also have emergency medical assistance in place, along with protocols for evaluating readiness to return to action. Just as in other school sports, safe transportation for cheerleading events is mandatory.

If a cheerleader receives a catastrophic injury because a school's athletics program failed to follow laws in place to ensure the athlete's safety, parents can hold the school accountable. It is essential for the parent to pursue accountability and get the support their child needs for medical services and treatment.  

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