First-of-its-kind research conducted by staff of the Center for Injury Research and Policy in the Columbus Children’s Research Institute at Columbus Children’s Hospital indicates that cheerleading has emerged as a significant source of injury to girls.
A retrospective analysis of data from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s National Electronic Injury Surveillance System for children five to 18 years of age was undertaken for the years 1990 through 2002. An estimated 209,000 children were treated in U.S. hospital emergency departments for cheerleading-related injuries during the 13 years examined in the study. The number of injuries increased by 110% during this time period, with an average of 16,100 injuries reported each year. The average age of injured children was 14 years and 97% were female. Eighty-five percent of the injuries occurred to children 12 to 17 years of age.
The study indicated that body parts injured included lower extremities (37%), upper extremities (26%), head/neck (18%) and trunk (16%). Injury diagnoses included strains/sprains (52%), soft tissue injuries such as bruising (18%), fractures/dislocations (16%), lacerations (3%), and concussions/closed head injuries (3%). While the majority of patients with cheerleading-related injuries was treated and released to home from hospital emergency departments, those with fractures or dislocations were more likely to be admitted to the hospital than those sustaining other types of injury.
The change from previous cheerleading styles to more gymnastic-type skills seems to have contributed to the increase in the number of cheerleading-related injuries, along with the 18% increase in the number of participants 6 years of age and older from 1990 to 2002, and the fact that it is a year-round sport. The American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Advisors estimated that as many as 3.5 million children participated in cheerleading activities in 2002.
“Cheerleading is an important source of injury to girls, as evidenced by the fact that these injuries more than doubled during the 13-year period we studied,” said Brenda Shields, M.S., research coordinator in the Center for Injury Research and Policy. “A set of universally-enforced rules and regulations directed at increasing the safety of cheerleading should be implemented and mandatory completion of a safety training/certification program should be required of all cheerleading coaches.”