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Youth Cheerleading: Exciting, Fun, Risky?

By Carol Church, Writer, Family Album
Reviewed by Suzanna Smith, PhD, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, University of Florida
This post is honor of Youth Sports Safety Month.

Have you watched high school cheerleaders perform recently? This pastime has really changed since I was a teen. Today, cheering can be incredibly athletic, involving major acrobatic and gymnastic feats. Nationwide competitions draw big crowds, and with good reason.

However, cheerleading is officially recognized as a high school sport in only 29 states. As a result, cheering’s potential to cause serious injury may not yet be fully recognized or understood. Yet many cheerleaders do experience injuries to their lower and upper extremities and head and neck. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently issued a policy statement with information on this subject, urging parents, schools and coaches to follow some basic guidelines for safer cheering.

The good news is that the overall injury rate for cheerleaders is actually lower than that among other female high school athletes. Also, most injuries are simple sprains and strains. However, the cheerleader concussion rate has been increasing rapidly, which is worthy of concern. Evidence is mounting that even minor concussions can cause serious, long-lasting consequences, such as attention problems, difficulty learning, depression, and other mental health problems.

And from 1982 to 2009, cheerleading injuries accounted for a disturbing 66% of catastrophic injuries to female high school athletes. Injuries considered catastrophic are those that result in permanent brain injury, paralysis, or death.

The AAP strongly recommends that cheerleading be officially designated a sport nationwide to encourage better safety regulation. They also emphasize the importance of coach training, and provide specific guidelines for cheerleading stunts, which are available online.

Parents should know that overall, cheerleaders are at higher risk when they cheer on hard surfaces (such as wood, grass, artificial turf, and especially concrete), perform major stunts, and are supervised by coaches without adequate training and experience. Most injuries occur during practice. All coaches and parents should be trained in and familiar with the symptoms of concussion.

Cheerleading has evolved into an exciting and demanding sport in its own right, with great opportunities for those who practice it. However, safety must be a priority to keep the activity safe and enjoyable for all.

(Photo credit: Untitled by Beth Rankin. CC BY 2.0.)

Further Reading



Center for Injury Research and Policy (CIRP) of The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital (2009).New national study finds more than half of cheerleading injuries in U.S. due to stunts. Retrieved from

Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness. (2012). Cheerleading injuries: Epidemiology and recommendations for prevention. Pediatrics, 130(5), e1155-e1161.

Medical News Today (2013). Concussions cause long-term effects lasting decades. Retrieved from

Medical News Today (2014). Concussion in teens increases risk of suicide attempts. Retrieved from


(Originally published in a slightly different form as: Church, C. (2012). Risks of cheerleading. [Radio broadcast episode]. Family Album Radio. Gainesville, FL:  University of Florida.)