Cheerleading has come a long way since 1898, when school spirit found its voice at a University of Minnesota football game. It was a men-only activity back then. Women weren’t allowed to cheer on their team in an official capacity until 1923. By the 1940s, girls and women everywhere were signing up to proudly represent their school as a cheerleader. Twenty years later, every high school and college in the U.S. featured their own cheerleading squad.
By the 1990s, All Star cheerleading took the sport into the modern cheerleading era, where the focus is elite athletic training and competition. The sport was always tied to football; ironically, cheerleading has become such an intense sport that participants can sustain injuries even more severe than football players’.
Cheerleading involves perfecting many different skills, all of which require agility, physical strength and stamina. It takes upper body strength and coordination to execute tumbling, handspring and cartwheel stunts. The teammates that help throw the flyers high into the air to perform acrobatic stunts - the “bases” - must have shoulder, leg, and core power. The flyers’ lives are literally in their hands. Like the team athletes they cheer on, cheerleaders practice almost daily, take private lessons in dance and gymnastics, and log countless hours in the weight room.
Cheerleading is in the top 20 sports with the most injuries. As the difficulty of stunts increases, so do the number of injuries. More than half of all catastrophic injures to female athletes are attributed to cheerleading. Cheerleaders are the most prone to incurring these injuries:
Ankle sprains and fractures – Cheerleaders often suffer a serious ankle sprain or fracture when they roll their ankle over the outside of their foot, or land a jump or stunt with too much force. Sometimes, their foot gets stepped on by a teammate when performing difficult moves.
Back muscle pull or vertebral stress fracture – Elite stunts, pyramid formations and dance routines all involve twisting and bending movements, many sudden. This can cause soft tissue and overuse injuries.
Concussions – Some studies report that one third of all cheerleading injuries are concussions. Like football, it’s a competitive, high-contact sport.
Jumper’s knee – Also known as runner’s knee, this is an overuse injury in which ligament strains and tears in the knee cause chronic pain and swelling.
Wrist and elbow injuries are caused by landing on hands in tumbling stunts, throwing flyers into the air, and executing complicated pyramid formations.
Today’s cheerleader is an elite athlete. The sport is high-impact and can be high-risk. It requires strength, endurance, advanced gymnastic ability, dance skills, grace, and precision. Conditioning, stretching for flexibility, solid techniques, and capable coaching are essential. Unfortunately, despite best efforts to manage the high risk of injury, ankle and foot problems are common.
If your cheerleader is experiencing a foot or ankle issue, call Podiatry Associates P.C. at 303-805-5156. With 25 years of sports medicine experience, Dr. O and her team of experts can help return her or him to the cheering section. Visit our website: www.footdoctorscolorado.com and make an appointment to see us at our Cherry Creek, Castle Pines, Parker, or Aurora office.