Pediatricians Call for New Cheerleading Safety Guidelines

Cheerleading has long sought to be recognized as an official sport — and now comes a recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics that calls for an adoption of new safety standards for those who participate in the activity. MedPageToday.com reports that cheerleading has evolved over the last three decades to become more complex, acrobatic and dangerous, which has led to an increase in injuries stemming from some of its more difficult gymnastic maneuvers.

Dr. Cynthia LaBella who specializes in pediatric sports medicine at Northwestern University says that a uniform set of safety standards would help usher cheerleading into the sports pantheon. LaBella, who is a member of the AAP’s Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness, is also one of the lead authors of the new set of AAP recommendations.

Currently only about half of the state high school athletic associations consider cheerleading to be a sport, and raising that ratio would provide additional safeguards for participants.

Those include access to athletic trainers and medical staff, quality training facilities and coaches, preseason strength and conditioning programs, and mandated preseason physicals. The recommendations were published in the November issue of Pediatrics.

“The academy really feels that cheerleading is a valuable activity for girls,” LaBella said. “We just want to make sure that they have the same safety precautions in place as other athletes of other sports.”

Even with its growing popularity, the rate of injury for those involved in cheerleading remains low compared to other women’s school sports. LaBella pegs the number at about one in every one thousand practices or competitions. Still, although the overall injury rate is lower, the number of catastrophic injuries — including injuries of the head and spine that result in permanent disability or death — is much higher. Cheerleaders also share another feature with football players for whom they frequently ply their art: a high number of concussions.

The American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Advisors and the National Federation of State High School Associations have developed rules and recommendations to increase the safety of cheerleading, requiring training and certification of coaches, proper strength and conditioning for all cheerleaders, avoidance of stunts and tumbling on hard surfaces, and specific rules for executing various technical skills.

The AAP recommends that to reduce the number of injuries and increase the safety level of cheerleading, all participants should have a solid understanding of spotting techniques. In addition, team practices and performances that involve acrobatic elements such as pyramids, tumbling, and tosses should only take place on surfaces that aren’t hard or uneven.