Georgia Cheerleading Injuries and Safety

Recently I have written quite a bit about traumatic brain injuries associated with football. Football players are at risk of serious injury, but we should not forget about the risk of injury for the athletes on the sidelines of the field: the cheerleaders.

As the University of Michigan video below reveals, cheerleading has become the leading cause of catastrophic injury among young female athletes. Over recent years, cheerleading has become more athletic and more dangerous.

A November 2009 study published in the Journal of Athletic training found that modern cheerleading stunts are the cause of 60 percent of cheerleading injuries. Further, cheerleading stunts such as "cradles, elevators, extensions, pyramids, single-based stunts, stunt-cradle combinations, transitions and miscellaneous partner and group stunts" are the cause of 96 percent of concussions and head injuries among cheerleaders.

Brenda Shields, author of the study and research coordinator at the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, OH, reported that strains and sprains account for 53 percent of cheerleader injuries. The study also found that 83 percent of injuries occur during practice, and nearly 90 percent of serious injuries occurred while the cheerleaders were performing on grass, artificial turf, foam floors, or wood floors.

"Only spring floors and four-inch-thick landing mats placed on traditional foam floors provide enough impact-absorbing capacity for two-level stunts," Shields said. "There is a greater risk for severe injury as the fall height increases or the impact-absorbing capacity decreases, or both."

In my opinion, more schools should require the use of landing mats for all cheerleading stunts. Schools should also have strict rules about cheerleading practice, since most injuries occur during practice.

The American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators (AACCA) states the following in regard to practice: "Cheerleading squads should be placed under the direction of a qualified and knowledgeable advisor or coach. All practice sessions should be supervised by the coach and held in a location suitable for the activities of cheerleaders (i.e., use of appropriate mats, away from excessive noise and distractions, etc.). Prior to the performance of any skill, the immediate environment for the activity should be taken into consideration including, but not limited to proximity of non-squad personnel, performance surface, lighting and/or precipitation. Technical skills should not be performed on concrete, asphalt, wet or uneven surfaces or surfaces with obstructions. Advisors/coaches should recognize a squad's particular ability level and should limit the squad's activities accordingly. 'Ability level' refers to the squad's talents as a whole and individuals should not be pressed to perform activities until safely perfected. All cheerleaders should receive proper training before attempting any form of cheerleading gymnastics."

In cases where school officials have been negligent by not providing proper supervision or practice locations, the schools may be held accountable for cheerleading injuries. In the video below, Dr. Amy Bohn says, "There often aren't adequate safety measures in place in schools with cheerleading. One of the particular concerns is that they're often practicing in a variety of locations."

Dr. Bohn suggests that parents of cheerleaders should talk to cheerleading coaches about safety concerns, coaching experience, practice locations, and supervision at practice.

I'd like to applaud the University of Georgia for prohibiting the "basket toss," one of the most dangerous cheerleading stunts: "Due to safety and liability concerns, the University of Georgia Athletic Board prohibits the UGA cheer squad from doing basket tosses."

More schools should follow the example set by the University of Georgia and consider the safety risks of cheerleading.

If your child has been injured in a Georgia cheerleading accident, contact a Georgia personal injury attorney as soon as possible. Call MLN Law at 404-531-9700 to schedule a free consultation.