|Wednesday, February 8th, 2006||Marc Straus | CWK Network Senior Producer|
“If you don’t take the steps that are necessary to get over an overuse injury, it’s just going to keep wearing you down.”
– Michael Umans, Physical Therapist at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta
Years ago, high school cheerleaders did little more than wave pom-poms and shout for the team. But times have changed. Sophisticated routines and national competitions have raised the stakes – and the injury count.
Lindsey Bowers, 16, started cheering back in fifth grade.
“It was just little rec league cheerleading,” she says. “We didn’t do much but stand on the sidelines and yell. So it wasn’t hardcore anything.”
That changed as she got older.
“It got harder in ninth grade, definitely, when I cheered for the school,” she admits. “And then with competition cheerleading, it’s more competitive. So it was harder stunts and harder routines to do. And it was practicing a lot more.”
All the jumps, the flips and the lifts eventually took a toll on her body.
“My back just started hurting one day at practice,” she explains. “And then it started getting worse [from], I don’t know, I guess over-cheering. …[I] kept on doing competitions [and] my back would start hurting even more.”
According to a new study in the journal Pediatrics, between 1990 and 2002 cheerleading injuries more than doubled.
Michael Umans, a physical therapist at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, says, “It goes back to the overuse issue. The fact that cheerleading is a year-round sport plays a role in the incidence of injury. Another reason that we’re seeing so many injuries is just the progression of skills.”
Even with physical therapy, Lindsey’s back pain never really went away, so she had to quit the team.
“If you don’t take the steps that are necessary to get over an overuse injury,” Umans explains, “it’s just going to keep wearing you down.”
He says parents should discuss potential stunts with coaches to make sure they’re not too dangerous – and they should monitor their kids at home.
“Pay attention to their body language,” he says. “I have adolescents, [who’ll] come in and say, ‘I feel fine,’ but they’re limping.”
Lindsey’s taken up competitive dancing now, which is much easier on her body. As for cheerleading, she says, “I do miss it sometimes, because when I see other cheerleading things, I wish that I could still do it, but I’d rather not be hurting than doing cheerleading.”
Umans is calling for the creation of a national database to track cheerleader injuries. He also says cheerleader coaches should be required to take certified safety courses.