With All-Star Cheer and collegiate cheerleading becoming more complex in skill level, cheerleading has become more physically demanding.
Cheerleading combines strength and flexibility. To excel, cheerleaders need to practice the same complicated stunts, tumbling passes, and jumps repeatedly. This repetition puts stress on many different parts of the body. Without proper rest, athletes’ bodies don’t have a chance to heal and grow stronger.
How do cheerleading injuries happen?
Many cheerleading injuries are overuse injuries: injuries to a bone, muscle, tendon, or ligament caused by continuous and repetitive stress on the same parts of the body. Stress fractures, tendinitis, and growth plate injuries are common overuse injuries for cheerleaders. Without rest and appropriate medical attention, minor overuse injuries can turn into serious injuries that require long periods of recovery and significant time out of cheerleading.
Hard landings and falls from stunting can cause acute injuries such as sprains, fractures, and concussions. Although rare, some accidents and falls result in serious head, neck, and spinal cord injuries.
What are the most common cheerleading injuries?
Upper body injuries
- shoulder dislocation
- elbow dislocation
- wrist sprains
- gymnast wrist
- osteochondritis dissecans of the elbow
Lower body injuries
- Sever’s disease
- ankle sprains
- ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injury
- meniscus injury
- avulsion fracture
- osteochondritis dissecans of the knee
- osteochondritis dissecans of the ankle
- anterior knee pain from patellar tendonitis (jumper’s knee), Sinding Larsen Johansson syndrome, and Osgood-Schlatter disease
- painful accessory navicular bone (a bone in the midfoot)
- painful os trigonum bones (small bones in the back of the ankle)
Head, neck, and back injuries
- back pain
Prevention: Proper conditioning and plenty of rest
Parents and coaches can reduce their cheerleader’s risk of injury by encouraging these safe training practices.
- Warming up before every practice and competition. Warmups may include easy aerobic exercise such as a light jog, splits with proper technique, stretching and tumbling, and stunt basics focusing on proper form.
- Not attempting complicated cheerleading stunts, tumbling passes, or jumps until they are strong, fit, and skilled enough to practice them safely. The harder the move, the more strength and fitness it requires, and the higher the likelihood of injury it carries.
- Taking time off every week to give their body a chance to rest and recover. While regular practice is important, constant, repetitive training increases the risk of injury.
- Speaking up if something hurts. Trying to be a hero by muscling through pain puts athletes at risk of serious injury. Any pain that lasts for days or gets worse over time needs to be checked out by a health care provider, preferably one with experience in sports injuries.
- Getting enough sleep: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends between nine and 12 hours of sleep for kids between 6 and 12, and eight to 10 hours of sleep for kids between 13 and 18. Athletes who aren’t rested are more accident prone and more likely to get injured.
- Drink plenty of water and eat a well-balance meal: Staying hydrated and eating hearty, well-balanced meals is important in cheerleading. Without proper water and food, cheerleaders won’t have the fuel they need to avoid injury.
- Having fun: Above all else, cheerleading is meant to be fun.
Cheerleading safety tips
The following precautions will further reduce athletes’ risk of injury during competitions and practices:
- Inspect all equipment to make sure it is sturdy and in good condition. Cheerleading stunts, tumbling, jumps, and drills should be placed far apart so athletes don’t collide with each other or the equipment.
- Make sure a well-stocked first aid kit is available at all competitions and practices.
- Identify the medical staff at competitions in case of an emergency.
- When learning a new skill, listen to your coach and use a spotter and additional spotting blocks and mats. Consider a safety harness to reduce your risk of injury.
- Wear wrist guards and braces if directed to do so by a health care provider.
- Make sure you have properly fitting and functional cheerleading sneakers. Check with your coach on proper fit and function.
How we care for cheerleading and cheering injuries at Boston Children’s Hospital
As the largest and most experienced pediatric and young adult sports medicine practice in the country, the Sports Medicine Division at Boston Children's combines personalized care with innovative treatment for each athlete we treat. We also have the country’s first and only Cheerleading Medicine Clinic, a sport-specific clinic for the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of cheerleading injuries.
Our sports medicine team consists of sports medicine physicians, orthopedic surgeons, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, physical therapists, podiatrists, athletic trainers, sports psychologists, dietitians, and many others who collaborate in every aspect of our patients’ care and their recovery. We work together to ensure our patients return to their sports safely and without further injury.
The Micheli Center for Sports Injury Prevention, part of the Sports Medicine Division, is dedicated to the prevention of sports injuries. Through research and clinical training, we offer practical strategies that help young athletes reduce their risk of injury while enhancing their sports performance. Our rehabilitation and strength training programs help injured athletes return to play stronger and healthier.
Whether injury prevention or recovery is your goal, we have the skills and dedication to help your child remain active in the sports they love.