Cheerleading isn't as dangerous as you might think, but it isn't totally safe either.
Despite popular perception, a new study from the University of Colorado (CU) found that cheerleading is among the safest high school sports. Yet, the relatively few injuries sustained in cheerleading are often some of the most severe.
For this study, a team of researchers led by Dawn Comstock, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology at CU, looked at high school cheerleading injuries from 2009 through 2014. This data was collected from the National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance System.
These researchers found an overall injury rate of 0.71 per 1,000 athletic exposures, ranking cheerleading 18th out of the 22 sports studied. An athletic exposure was defined as one athlete participating in one practice, competition or performance.
Although 96.8 percent of the injured cheerleaders were girls, the overall injury rate was higher among boys.
And when injuries did occur, they were often serious. Cheerleading had the second highest rate of injuries resulting in at least three weeks rest of all the sports studied.
The most common injuries included concussions at 31.1 percent, ligament sprains at 20.2 percent, muscle strains at 14.2 percent and fractures at 10.3 percent. Surgery was required 4 percent of the time.
For decades, cheerleading was considered a sideline activity rather than a sport. Even today, each US state's high school athletic association is responsible to determine whether cheerleading is a sport or club activity.
While this study largely disproves the belief that cheerleading is more dangerous than other sports, the authors noted that cheerleading injuries have increased in recent years. They said one way to make the activity safer is to have all states classify cheerleading as a sport.
"As athletes, cheerleaders should have access to the same safety standards as any other sport," said senior study author Dustin Currie, a doctoral student at CU, in a press release. "That means, for example, having a qualified coach present at every practice, a designated space in which to practice, and appropriate safety measures like mats and spotters when learning new skills."
An estimated 400,000 students participate in high school cheerleading each year in the US, including nearly 125,000 involved in competitive squads.
This study was published online Dec. 10 in the journal Pediatrics.
Information on funding sources and conflicts of interest was not available at the time of publication.