It's well known that many people consider cheerleading to be one of the most dangerous sports for female athletes thanks to well publicized reports on cheerleading injury statistics. However, whenever you read statistics, it is good to remember that they sometimes only tell one side of a story.
The Risk of Cheerleading
There's little doubt that cheerleading carries an inherent risk. All sports do; even sports like ping pong or golf carry the potential risk of injury. What makes cheerleading particularly noted is the type of injuries cheerleaders suffer. While cheerleaders can easily suffer common injuries like sprains and strains, a few widely publicized studies note that cheerleaders suffer more injuries resulting in death or paralysis than any other sport including football.
This, coupled with the widely publicized death of cheerleaders like Lauren Chang, has caused many organizations to tighten regulations around the types of stunts cheerleading squads can perform and the safety precautions squads should take.
Cheerleading Injury Statistics: A Mountain or a Mole Hill?
The most famous and widely publicized report on the dangers of cheerleading had media outlets proclaiming in headlines that cheerleading was more dangerous than football. However, critics are quick to point out that statistics need to be considered within the wider context of the entire sport. Looking at a few headlines from the media, you can see that they don't often tell the full picture.
Nearly 25,000 Cheerleaders Ended up in the Emergency Room in 2007
This is absolutely true; approximately 25,000 cheerleaders ended up in the emergency room in 2007, and the number does continually rise. After a headline like that, why would anyone want to become a cheerleader? However, take into consideration the following:
- Not all the injuries were serious. Many girls went to the emergency room with sprained ankles, twisted knees or other more minor injuries.
- Many cheerleaders cheer at games over the weekend or in the evenings when primary care physicians are not open. If a girl twists an ankle, the only option is the emergency room. This kind of treatment, although necessary, inflates the reality of the types of emergency room visits that are being made.
That's not to say that serious injuries can't happen during cheerleading. However, the vast majority of cheerleaders "ending up in the emergency room" are there for minor injuries.
Cheerleading Sees the Most "Life Altering" Injuries of Any Sport
A 2018 study (p.31) by the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research cited that 42 females suffered serious injuries during the course of the study. In comparison, track and field had the next highest number of serious injuries with seven females injured. However, it's important to not the study didn't account for the following:
- Cheerleading has grown exponentially compared to other female sports. It stands to reason that with more participation, there will be more injuries. To accurately compare sports, the study would need to have about the same number of participants from all sports.
- The study did not consider the fact that in many cases, cheerleading is a year round sport whereas football, basketball or soccer are not year round sports. A more accurate comparison could be made by looking at injuries occurring during a specific time period.
Changing Cheerleading Injury Statistics: Safety
There is no doubt that there are risks in tossing girls up into the air and catching them. However, sometimes the headlines do not tell the entire story. It's important to remember these risks and take appropriate safety precautions that include:
- Require safety certification and ongoing education for coaches
- Appoint qualified tumbling instructors
- Have trainers on site for cheerleading performances
- Follow safety regulations like using mats on the floor during performances