Study: Concussion Injuries No. 1 for Cheerleaders

It was five years ago that a high school cheerleader in Maine suffered a horrifying head injury during a “basket toss” stunt, in which she fell some 20 feet after being thrown in the air by her teammates at practice. 

In a lawsuit she filed three years ago, the former Poland Regional High School student described the aftermath of her concussion, which involved dizziness, sensitivity to light, awful headaches, long sleeping stretches and difficulty concentrating that resulted in slipping grades. The lawsuit alleged the school didn’t properly supervised the practice, failed to halt the practice once the student athlete was injured, didn’t observe her injury or provide prompt medical attention and violated a host of industry rules and standards as well as Maine law.

Now, according to a recent report published in the journal Pediatrics, we know these injuries aren’t all that uncommon among cheerleaders. There are approximately 400,000 students nationally participating in high school cheerleading. Of those, about 124,000 are in competitive “spirit squads.” These squads demand discipline, skill and increasing athletic ability, and that has meant the risk of injury has risen. 

In examining data from the National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance Study from 2009 through 2014, it was revealed that while injuries within cheerleading are less common than in other student sports (i.e., football, wrestling, basketball, etc.), concussions were the No. 1 injury for cheerleaders. In fact, concussions accounted for nearly one-third of all injuries suffered by cheerleaders during that time frame.

More than half of these incidents occurred while the girls (and they are overwhelmingly females) were performing stunts.

Injury rates may be relatively low for cheerleaders on the whole, but when they do happen, researchers opened, they tend to be more severe.

In addition to concussions, other top injuries included:

  • Torn ligaments
  • Sprains
  • Muscle Strains
  • Fractures

Where concussions were happening, researchers learned most cases involved the “flyer” (person being thrown) being struck by the elbow or body part of other teammates, as opposed to striking their head on the floor.

Although there are some who may discount the severity of these injuries, the fact is, cheerleading is the fourth-most popular sport for high school girls. And yes, it is in fact a sport.

But part of the problem is that because it sometimes not viewed as having the same importance or risk as, say, high school football, teams are often not given adequate practice space, equipment or well-trained instructors. In a startling number of cases, researchers noted practices were taking place in parking lots or school hallways.

One former high school cheerleader interviewed by CBS News reported her team practiced in the main lobby of the school entrance. People were coming and going, which was distracting, particularly when girls were being thrown into the air. That individual suffered a dislocated knee and two torn cartilages in both knees during her time as a high school cheerleader.

These areas were never intended for athletic activity. By recognizing the potential for student injury – and school liability – perhaps administrators will take these issues seriously and ensure these matters are addressed. These athletes are completing stunts that involve twisting, twirling and throwing teammates some 20 feet in the air. In some cases, schools looking to be more competitive recruit for additional cheerleaders, but in the process are bringing on less experienced athletes to help with stunts that are increasingly more complicated.

Of course, some physical strain is always expected in any youth sport, but what researchers found is many of these injuries are preventable.

One of the primary ways to do this, researchers agree, is to ensure there is a trained coach leading the squad.

If you are the victim of a Bangor car accident, contact Peter Thompson & Associates at 1-800-804-2004 for a confidential consultation to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:

Cheerleading Injuries in United States High Schools, January 2016, Pediatrics

More Blog Entries:

Insurance Coverage for Intentional Tort With a Vehicle, Dec. 20, 2015, Maine Student Injury Lawyer Blog

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