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Medical Group Highlights Cheerleading Risks, Recommends Changes

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Cheerleading has become an increasingly dangerous activity, and that's why a leading medical group is asking schools to follow new guidelines to make it safer.

More than 3.5 million American students participate in cheerleading and 26,000 of them are injured each year. The American Academy of Pediatrics says the biggest dangers are flips, pyramids and other acrobatics, and is now urging schools to give all cheerleaders pre-season physicals and access to strength and conditioning coaches.

“The risk of falling, the risk of head injuries is significant,” pediatric sports medicine expert Dr. Jeff Mjaanes said.

Doctors say cheerleaders should never do pyramid or partner stunts on a hard surface and pyramids shouldn’t be more than two people high.

“Every year, more and more complex routines are being put in place and there's definitely more ballistic motions of throwing people higher, higher pyramids,” Mjaanes said. “It just seems logical that this number of catastrophic injuries will likely increase.”

“Some coaches have training, some coaches don't,” he added. “Some facilities are safe and adequate, other facilities are not. Some states, some groups, adhere to rules and recommendations, others don't.”

Here are the group's recommendations:

  • Cheerleading should be designated as a sport in all states, allowing for benefits such as qualified coaches, better access to medical care and injury surveillance.
  • All cheerleaders should have a pre-season physical, and access to qualified strength and conditioning coaches.
  • Cheerleaders should be trained in all spotting techniques and only attempt stunts after demonstrating appropriate skill progression.
  • Pyramid and partner stunts should be performed only on a spring/foam floor or grass/turf. Never perform stunts on hard, wet or uneven surfaces. Pyramids should not be more than 2 people high.
  • Coaches, parents and athletes should have access to a written emergency plan.
  • Any cheerleader suspected of having a head injury should be removed from practice or competition and not allowed to return until he or she has clearance from a health professional.

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