Chiropractic Care for Common Cheerleader Injuries

High school athletes of all kinds are at heightened risk of injury, and cheerleaders are no exception.

If your vision of cheerleaders starts and ends with pom-pom shaking, you’re a bit behind the times. Today’s cheerleaders incorporate a great deal of dance and acrobatics into their routines. This significantly raises their risk of impact injuries, particularly to the joints. This post looks at common cheerleader injuries and how chiropractic care can help.

Is Cheerleading Really a Sport?

Whether cheerleading is considered a sport depends on who you ask. The NCAA says no while the American Medical Association (AMA) says yes.

One reason the question remains up in the air is the fact that the sport is 97 percent female. That presents an issue for two reasons. The more obvious one is that women-centric activities in a traditionally masculine arena often get less respect than male-dominated sports. But there is also a more nuanced reason raised by the gender issue. To receive Title IX funding, schools have to prove equal access to athletics for their male and female students. Classifying cheerleading as a sport could lead to fewer athletic opportunities for female students in other sports.Cheerleader being thrown in the air

At Southwest Spine & Rehab, we look at the athleticism of the participants, not the politics. That’s why we agree with the American Medical Association. Cheerleading is a sport.

Common Cheerleader Injuries

Whether they’re performing on the sidelines or starring as the main attraction, such as the All-Star cheer and dance teams, cheerleading is a high-impact sport. And what you see on the court or in the field is the result of hours and hours of practice.

In fact, all that practice time is when most cheerleader injuries occur. A whopping 83 percent of injuries occur during practice, with high school cheerleaders averaging 3.8 injuries during their time in the sport.

The most common cheerleader injuries are sprains and strains to the:

  • Ankle: 15 percent
  • Neck: 7 percent
  • Lower back: 5 percent
  • Knee: 5 percent
  • Wrist: 4 percent

These injuries are mostly due to falls while performing stunts and tumbling maneuvers, particularly the pyramid and basket toss.

Just over 46 percent of cheerleaders are sidelined (no pun intended) for a week. Around half miss practice for 2.5 weeks, with the remainder unable to perform indefinitely.

What Causes Cheerleader Injuries?

We’ve already said that most of these injuries are caused by falls, but why do those falls injure the athlete?

Common maneuvers – the pyramid, basketball toss, and other tumbling moves – place serious demands on the musculoskeletal system, even when they’re performed flawlessly. Add in a fall from a height of 5 feet or more, or a spotter not positioned correctly, and those demands are even greater.

Cheerleader readying to jump off pyramid

Another contributing factor is the athlete’s landing technique. A flexed position creates a chain that sends the energy of impact from the feet up through the abdomen. Cheerleaders, however, typically land in an erect position. As a result, their ankles and lower legs absorb most of the energy of impact. It’s no wonder that ankle sprains are the most common cheerleading injury.

Additional factors contributing to injury are:

  • A long season, particularly for sideline cheerleaders
  • Varying practice surfaces, from gym mats to hard floors to grass
  • Performing in inclement weather conditions
  • A too-low body mass and malnutrition
  • Lack of spotters during practices
  • Lack of trained coaches

Preventing Cheerleader Injuries

Many in the industry believe that classifying cheerleading as a sport would go a long way toward preventing cheerleader injuries. That’s because the NCAA places guidelines on safety and risk management, as well as injury reporting. With no mandatory reporting system outside of the NCAA, and the NCAA not recognizing cheerleading as a sport, it’s up to the schools to set guidelines. Unfortunately, with no governing body requiring oversight, many schools fail to rise to the challenge.

For example, researchers tracked a 40 percent decrease in injuries when trained coaches were present. Researchers also note that exercise programs help decrease sprain and strain injuries. In addition, training demonstrates proper landing techniques when performing acrobatic maneuvers and throws.

There are also no definitive guidelines on how many spotters must participate during practices. Or on the practice surface. Padded and spring surfaces are much more forgiving than hard gym floors.

Finally, preventing that first injury reduces risk of future injuries. That’s because every sprain and strain weakens the ligaments, increasing risk of injury.

Cheerleaders holding up cheerleaders holding up cheerleaders

How Chiropractic Care Can Help with Cheerleader Injuries

Although most famous for spinal manipulation to treat back pain, chiropractic care can help with a variety of injuries. Your chiropractor’s goal is treating the cause of your issue, not covering it up with addictive pain pills.

Chiropractic treatments for cheerleader injuries depend on the type of injury and may include one or more of the following:

  • Radial pressure wave therapy (RPW) improves blood flow and reduces inflammation, making it highly effective in treating joint pain in the shoulder, hip, knee, and elbow. It also treats tendinopathy, insertional tendinitis, and medial tibial stress syndrome.
  • Transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation (TENS) helps treat acute pain due to injury.
  • Muscle stimulation helps relieve pain, reduce inflammation, and soothe muscle spasms.
  • Chiropractic rehabilitation exercises reduce pain and return range of motion and mobility.

Southwest Spine & Rehab provides a wide array of muscle and joint rehabilitation services. Contact our office for more information.