A first study of its kind published in the journal Pediatrics by researchers from the University of Colorado School of Public Health, Anschutz Medical Campus concludes that cheerleading is the safest student group activity in high schools; with very little injuries occurring from it, even though it can often be very serious when it does occur.
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According to Dustin Currie, a researcher and doctoral student at the Colorado School of Public Health at CU Anschutz, "We found that cheerleading is actually relatively safe compared to the other high school sports we studied, ranking 18th out of the 22 sports we looked at in terms of overall injury rate."
This is the first time health analysts or medical researchers would study injury epidemiology in high schools and compare the findings to other school sports.
Directed by Dawn Comstock, data gathered by the National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance System, and High School Reporting Information Online (RIO) was used by the researchers for the study. Comstock is an associate professor of epidemiology at the Program for Injury Prevention, Education and Research (PIPER) at the Colorado School of Public Health and the senior author of the research.
The authors of the study disclosed they collected sports data from about 107 high schools over a 5-year period and found that 752 female cheerleader injuries occurred in 1,090,705 sporting events. Most of the injuries involved concussions, ligament sprains, muscle strains, and fractures among others, while 4% of fractures and sprains among other injuries required surgery.
"Cheerleading's overall injury rate was significantly lower than that of all other sports combined and all other girls sports combined," the study authors said, noting that 25 male injuries occurring per 18,784 athletic events – usually during stunts such as dismounts.
"These findings demonstrate that although cheerleading is relatively safe overall, when injuries do occur, they may be more severe," Currie explained. "Prevention efforts should focus on activities placing cheerleaders at risk for severe injuries."
Considering the fact that cheerleading is often considered a sideline activity and not a sporting event – in spite of over 400,000 students participating, analysts say the only way to reduce the injuries associated with cheerleading is to consider it a sport that requires athletic abilities.
Most high schools in each state are left to determining whether cheerleading is a club activity or sport, but Comstock thinks most cheerleaders are better considered as athletes; and in a case where states would not like to categorize cheerleading as a sport, then the least they could do is to subject it to safety measures and risk minimization initiatives as can be seen with most school sports.
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"As athletes, cheerleaders should have access to the same safety standards as any other sports," said Currie. "That means, for example, having a qualified coach present at every practice, a designated space in which to practice, and appropriate safety measures like mats and spotters when learning new skills."