Safety Tips for Cheerleaders: Preventing Overuse Injuries
Aug 09, 2019
Cheerleaders don’t simply stand around at games trying to get the crowd riled up. It is a very disciplined and competitive sport. Often, it incorporates the athletic demands of gymnastics, but without the mats. It also includes a lot of dance choreography, which requires hours of practice, and repetition, to make perfect. This can lead to overuse injuries, as well as sprains and strains.
With the tumbling and stunting involved in competitive cheer, and the practice it takes to do well, there is increased pressure on the spine and a higher risk of stress fractures. As younger athletes, cheerleaders are still vulnerable to growth plate injuries at the wrist, elbow, knee and ankle due to the repetitive stress.
Because of the nature of practices, cheerleaders tend to see injuries similar to what dancers get. In this way, cheer athletes really should take care of, and prepare, their bodies for practice as a dancer would.
Stretching. There are no shortcuts here. A common mechanism of injury I see in our clinics and in rehab with athletes is simply not warming up and stretching properly. Athletes should stretch the muscles of the upper and lower extremities, hips and back, before and after activity, holding all stretches a minimum of 30 seconds - then repeat 2-3 times each.
Landing from jumps should include the practice of sticking the landing in the athletic position. The hips and legs are like shock absorbers. The athlete should keep the shoulders over the knees, the knees over the toes and not let the knees collapse in towards each other.
Balance training should include stationary and dynamic activities that progress step-by-step. The athlete should start slow and ease into more difficult balance work. Balance exercises should begin on a stable surface such as the floor and progress to unstable surfaces such as the mat.
The core is the link in the chain that connects the upper and lower halves of our bodies. If the core is weak, injuries are more likely. The core includes the abdominal, back and hip muscles. Core exercises should be done on a daily basis.
Repetitive tumbling activities must be done in intervals, followed with rest. These should not be done on a daily basis. Too many repetitions and impact stress don’t let the body adapt and that’s when things start to break down.
There can always be injuries in any activity, but overuse injuries in cheerleading happen from the repetitive nature of movements. These types of injuries get worse over time and can keep an athlete off the squad for a longer time. Overuse symptoms include pain and/or swelling that comes and goes at first and then becomes constant. These symptoms may also progress from occurring only after activity to occurring during and before activity. If the pain and swelling does not resolve and function does not return in a few days, see your physician or a sports medicine specialist.
Like any other athlete, to be your best and avoid injury, cheerleaders have to care for their bodies. Stretching daily, always warming up the right way, getting proper rest, practicing good technique and not getting in the habit of repeating the same thing too often can help. Cheerleaders should change up the routine and give the body the chance to do something different to give muscles and joints a break.
For more information about Sports Medicine services at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, click here.
Eric Leighton is the lead athletic trainer for Functional Rehab at Nationwide Children's Hospital Sports Medicine. He is also the lead of the Performing Arts Medicine section within Sports Medicine. Eric has treating patients for over 20 years with a focus on performing arts athletes and dancers.
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