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Cheerleading Injuries on the Rise

Heightened Competition Makes Sport More Dangerous Than Ever Before
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Oct. 22, 2002 -- As cheerleading has moved from the sidelines to center court, it's joined the ranks of other competitive sports as a leading cause of major injuries among girls. New statistics show cheerleading causes more catastrophic injuries resulting in paralysis or death among high school and college-age girls than any other sport.

Despite these dangers, experts say cheerleading receives little of the research, support, and preventive attention that other varsity sports such as football and baseball enjoy.

"We need to recognize that cheerleading is a sport and not sideline entertainment," says Sally Harris, MD, MPH, of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation in California. Harris presented new data on cheerleading-related injuries this week at the American Academy of Pediatrics Conference and Exhibition in Boston.

"Cheerleading is a rapidly growing sport, primarily for girls, but there is very little information about it, and hardly anything in the published medical literature," says Harris. "Yet we see girls with injuries from cheerleading that are more severe than with other sports."

Harris says cheerleading has evolved into a highly competitive sport that has very little to do with cheering. Today, it relies heavily on complicated gymnastics maneuvers, lifting, and multilevel pyramid building rather than just shouting and shaking pom-poms.

The high-impact nature of modern competitive cheerleading has prompted a rise in cheerleading-related injuries. Some of the most commonly reported injuries -- often the result of falls, dismounts, and weight-bearing stunts -- are to the ankle, knees, back, wrist, and hands.

In fact, Harris says, cheerleading has a higher proportion of injuries that turn out to be serious fractures and dislocations than is seen in other sports.

"Cheerleading is incredibly demanding on all body parts," says Harris. "And there is no off season."

As many as 5 million girls and young women currently participate in cheerleading in community, school, and college squads, and they often start as early as age 5.

Harris says the recent growth of organized, competitive cheerleading that happens outside of the schools has made the sport increasingly risky and more difficult to monitor for safety. But even school-sponsored cheerleading squads usually suffer from inadequate supervision, a lack of access to on-site medical care, and practice on inappropriate surfaces, such as gym floors or hallways.

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