It’s a dangerous game we play.

It’s time to address a serious topic.

Cheerleading is a dangerous sport. That’s a fact. According to CBS News and the US Sports Academy, cheerleading is the 2nd most dangerous sport, second only to football. Cheerleading accounts for 66% of “catastrophic injuries” in female athletes, which means injuries to the spine, neck, and head. Last year, there were 37,000 emergency room visits by cheerleaders.

With cheerleading being the most popular sport for girls, and over 3 million cheerleaders age 6+ in the US, this is a huge problem. Like I mentioned a few posts ago, cheerleading isn’t just “Go, fight, win!” on the sidelines anymore. Competitive cheerleading is an intense sport. Injuries abound when you’re doing things like jumping, tumbling, and stunting.

When cheer squads are throwing crazy stunts like the one above (notice the two girls on the ends, diving head first toward the ground), is it any surprise that there are so many injuries??

The sad reality of cheerleading is that you’re going to get hurt—there are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. During my cheer career, I fractured my nose, dislocated my hip, broke more fingers than I can remember, sprained my ankle and wrists, jammed elbows and fingers—I can’t even count the number of bloody noses, goose eggs, and bruises I came home with. 7 years after retiring from cheerleading, I’m still feeling the effects of it. Even as a coach, I’m still getting injured—I have a sprained wrist as I write this.

The worst part is, I consider myself to be one of the lucky ones. I’ve seen girls snap their ankles during tumbling passes, back spots have belly button rings ripped out of their stomachs, and flyers smash their heads on the mat.

(Um, is it just me or does she look like she’s still cheering?)

So, what’s the problem? I think that the biggest problem is that many coaches have no idea what they’re doing. A lot of them are former cheerleaders, and they assume that they know what they’re doing—but guess what, cheerleading is nothing today like it was 10 or 20 years ago.

Coaches are having girls throw stunts when they don’t understand the proper form and technique. They’re not teaching it correctly and they aren’t taking enough precautions. Even great coaches, however, can’t guarantee that their cheerleaders aren’t going to get hurt. Accidents happen.

I think it’s safe to say that stunts are the biggest cause of injury. Though they’re often hurt, flyers aren’t the only ones that get injured. According to the US Sports Academy, the impact that bases experience as they catch their flyer is greater than the impact of being tackled by a professional football player. If you’re a base, you’re going to get hurt whether or not you do your job. If you don’t do your job, you’re going to get hurt. If you do your job as a base, guess what—you’re still going to get hurt. You know why? Because out of the 4 or 5 girls in your stunt group, there’s always at least one girl who isn’t going to do her job correctly.

Even if you don’t get seriously injured during your cheer career, it’s likely that you will feel the painful effects of cheerleading as you get older. Unfortunately, this is something that I know all about. As a result of being a base for many years, I have carpal tunnel in both wrists and a pre-arthritic right elbow. From years of high impact jumping and tumbling, and from absorbing the impact of flyers while basing, I suffer from cartilage loss, inflammation, and constant pain in both knees.

Now, I’m not talking slap on a knee brace and some Icy Hot and it’s all okay kind of pain. I’m talking can’t walk a mile without my knee swelling up like a balloon and being couch-ridden the rest of the day, probably going to need a knee replacement in my 30s, my 80 year old grandma’s joints are in better condition than mine kind of pain.

Taking the aftereffects into consideration, would I join a different sport if I could go back in time? No way, I wouldn’t change a thing. My only regret is that my body wouldn’t let me cheer even longer. However, it would’ve been nice if someone would’ve told me that these things could eventually happen as a result of the stress cheer puts on your body.