How to Prevent Injuries from Cheerleading Stunting

For decades, cheerleading consisted mainly of toe-touch jumps, kicks, and sideline cheers. Today, cheerleading routines include gymnastic-like moves like flips, handsprings, humid pyramids and partner stunts: lifts, catches and basket tosses.

With the intense, dynamic change, cheerleaders run a higher risk of injury, especially those who partake in stunting. According to the United States Sports Academy, cheerleading is the number one female sport and number two in catastrophic injuries when compared to all sports-American football ranks higher.

In the early 1980's there was one female catastrophic injury. During the past 30 years there has been an average of at least nine per year, mainly due to gymnastic-style cheerleading (stunting) according to the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research (NCCSIR).

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, an estimated 4,954 hospital emergency room visits in 1980 were caused by cheerleading injuries. By 2005, the number increased from to more than 28,000.

The increasing numbers of injuries prompted the United States Sports Academy, National Cheer Safety Foundation (NCSF) to vigorously push safety initiatives, but it has only so much influence. With more than 75 cheerleading organizations, varying from state to state and region to region, each has their own regulations and competitions.

Stunting Injury Prevention

First and foremost, cheerleaders should take part in a stunt-safety class, learning stunting progressions. All stunts should be performed on mats and under super vision.

Stunts need a base, flyer and spotter. Without a spotter, no stunt should be performed.

Cheerleaders should work with their coach on a stretch-training program to build the necessary muscles needed for stunting: leg exercises, core moves, stretching routines and stability exercises.

Wearing protective gear (back, wrist, ankle or shoulder support) can help stabilize commonly used muscles, especially for the base cheerleaders. With the amount of pressure applied onto the base, a good stability brace for common cheerleading injuries can help prevent injury during a stunt.

When landing from a stunt dismount, land in an athletic position (knees slightly bent and aligned with the toes). Make sure the shoulders are over the knees.

Balance and stability training will help the flyer remain balanced while up in the air, with weight distributed evenly. This training will help the bases and spotters keep grounded while lifting the flyer and during stunts that require walking, cradles or tosses. Balance exercises should begin on a stable surface such as the floor and progress to unstable surfaces such as the mat or BOSU ball.

A weak core can lead to injury. When stunting the core is used 100 percent and it's the chain that connects the upper and lower body together. Core exercises should be done daily to keep it strong.

Rest is just as important as practice. When feeling fatigued, it's important to rest. Resting protects the tired athlete as well as the rest of the cheer squad. You don't want your base to be tired. A weak base will lead to a sloppy stunt, which can result in injury to the bases, spotter or flyer. It goes with the flyer. If the flyer is fatigued, do not attempt the stunt. The flyer's balance and tightness will most likely be off, resulting in more weight placed on the bases and spotters. When dismounting the flyer may not be as stiff, again resulting in injury, because of wide arms, legs or laziness.

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