Cheerleading can be demanding on all areas of the body, and, as in any other sport, injuries are bound to happen no matter how careful or how well trained you may be. Being knowledgeable about the most common cheer injuries and how to appropriately handle them will help reduce recovery time and enhance prevention efforts. Always remember the more you condition your body (through exercise and strength training) the better prepared your body will be to protect you from injury. Use the following information to help keep you from being sidelined.
Ankle Sprains – As a result of the amount of skills in cheerleading that depend on rapid movement of the legs (i.e. jumping, dancing, tumbling), ankle sprains are the most common cheer injury reported. Medically speaking, when you sprain your ankle, you have stretched or torn ligaments within the ankle. The most frequently seen sprain occurs when weight is applied to the ankle on an uneven surface and a rolling motion occurs. Pain and swelling typically follow directly after, and some people may even hear or feel a pop. In this instance the best practice is to rely on R.I.C.E.
R – Rest
I – Ice
C – Compression
E – Elevation
Resting your ankle means trying to avoid bearing direct weight on the ankle for at least a 24 hour period (possibly longer). Apply ice frequently for short intervals of time throughout the first 24-48 hours to help reduce swelling and pain. Do not apply ice directly to the skin; use a light towel to separate your skin from the ice. Wrapping an ace bandage or another type of elastic bandage around the ankle will also help reduce swelling. Additionally, elevating your ankle above heart level will allow gravity to assist in pulling out any swelling. The final step is to seek a medical opinion if you haven’t seen an improvement in the suggested period of time or if the pain becomes extreme. If you suspect that you have sprained your ankle, avoid hot showers, hot compresses or heating pads, and do not take aspirin, as these things will all slow the recovery process significantly. Full recovery time could range anywhere from 1 – 5 weeks depending on the severity of the sprain.
Groin Pulls – Due to the flexibility demands of cheerleaders, another common injury is a pulled groin. This injury occurs when the muscles located in the inner thigh are stretched beyond their limits. Essentially, this injury is the same as any other pulled muscle injury, and is often seen when cheerleaders overextend during jumps and/or when flyers overextend while completing flexibility-based skills in the air. R.I.C.E. is the preferred treatment for a groin pull, and the recovery time is typically 2-4 weeks. There is groin tape made specifically for taping this area of the leg, and many athletes find that it helps stabilize the area during and after recovery. Preventing injury to this area is best accomplished by conducting proper warm ups and stretching.
Wrist Injuries – Wrist injuries are common in cheerleading because of the multiple weight bearing skills involved, specifically stunting and tumbling. Additionally, bracing a fall can be especially dangerous to the wrist joint. It is important before stunting or tumbling training ever begins that every cheerleader is taught how to fall without bracing themselves with her hands. Similar to the ankle, the most common injury to the wrist is a sprain. If there is no obvious deformity and no numbness occurring after the injury, follow the R.I.C.E. guidelines. If pain remains persistent, seek medical attention.
Back Pain – Lower back pain is common in cheerleading for a multitude of reasons, making it difficult tp determine the exact cause. It is important for bases to use proper stunting techniques. Improper techniques are a direct cause of back pain in many cheerleaders. Specifically, when catching cradles or basket tosses, it is important to catch a flyer as high as possible to slow the catch to prevent the jerking motion that can result in soreness in the back. Additionally, the required back extension needed for most tumbling can cause back pain when a cheerleader has not stretched properly or gained the necessary back flexibility. Bridges are an important stretching method for any backwards tumbling skills. Another potential cause of back pain is tumbling on hard surfaces such as tracks and basketball courts. If you are expected to tumble on these surfaces, be sure to warm up properly and take the necessary precautions to brace your landing.
As in any other sport the list of potential injuries is lengthy, but prevention is always a strong first step in combating injury. Remember the best way to avoid real life scars is to incorporate S.C.A.R. into your routine.
S – Stretch and warm up adequately. This helps prevent injury.
C – Condition. This helps strengthen the muscle groups that support your joint areas.
A – Always listen to your body. Don’t exceed your own limits.
R – Rehabilitate. Take time to allow your body to rest and recoup.