Cheerleaders at High-Risk for Concussions

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • In many parts of the nation, fans are increasingly anticipating the start of football season. As I’ve mentioned before, concussions sustained during this sport can have long-term consequences. For instance, a study out of the University of California, Los Angeles published earlier this year linked concussions that were sustained by professional football players to Alzheimer’s disease.

    But we also need to be equally worried about the cheerleaders on the sidelines who are performing acrobatic stunts and building tall human pyramids in support of their team “Concussions are a risk for any athlete, but are a particular concern for those participating in cheerleading due to the nature of the activity involving height, inversion and rotation of the body as well as physical interaction and contact with other team members,” the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches &  Administrators (AACCA) states on its website.

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    And the numbers illustrate the reality that cheerleaders have one of the highest incidences of concussions. The National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research found that cheerleading was responsible for 64.8 percent of all direct catastrophic injuries to high school girl athletes and 70.6 percent of college girl athletes from 1982 to 2011.

    Interestingly, girls may be more susceptible to concussions than boys. "In sports where contact is the same, we see that girls have roughly twice as many concussions as guys," said Dr. Robert Cantu, medical director of the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research at the University of North Carolina told the Orlando Sentinel. "We believe that a contributing factor is that girls are a bit more honest in explaining their symptoms. Another major factor is that they generally have weaker necks than boys and are less able to sustain a hit to the head."

    The Houston Chronicle reported that Texas’ University Interscholastic League (UIL), which establishes rules for the state’s public school athletes, voted to bring cheerleading into compliance with the state’s education code that focuses on the prevention, treatment and oversight of concussions. This change means that schools create a cheerleading oversight team that makes sure that the cheerleading squad follows the established protocol removing cheerleaders who are believed to have suffered a concussion from practices and competitions. The oversight team also has to follow a protocol that allows the cheerleaders to return to the activity after they have suffered a concussion. The UIL also will now require schools to have parents or guardians of cheerleaders to sign a concussion acknowledgement form. Additionally, coaches and sponsors will be required to participate in specific training about safety guidelines related to concussion.

    The AACCA has developed guidelines related to the medical management of concussions in relationship to cheerleading. The guidelines include signs and symptoms of concussion to help coaches and other cheerleaders recognize that there may be an issue. The guidelines also provide a five-stage reference for post-concussion participation in cheerleading. As part of its guidelines, the association offers the following recommendations:

    • All participants should have a physical evaluation annually prior to the start of cheerleading. If possible the cheerleading team should also have pre-season concussion testing.
    • All teams should identify a medical provider who will assess and provide initial care of concussions. This provider should be either a physician or an athletic trainer who is working under a physician’s protocol for concussions.
    • Any cheerleader who exhibits any signs that are consistent with a concussion should be removed immediately form the activity and will not be allowed to return until clearance has been obtained from a physician.
    • A cheerleader who has a suspected concussion should not be allowed to return to cheerleading within 24 hours of the incident and should be cleared by a medical professional before returning to cheerleading.
    • Any cheerleader who sustains multiple concussions should consult with a physician who specializes in the evaluation and care of concussions.

    Concussions are serious situations, no matter what the gender of the sport’s participants. If you’re a coach, parent or cheerleader, make sure you take the appropriate steps in order to help the participant avoid further damage to the brain now and, thus, avoiding potential diseases of the brain later in life.

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    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

    American Association of Cheerleading Coaches & Administrators. (nd). AACCA concussion management and return to play protocol.

    Houston Chronicle. (2013). Newest concussion prevention crackdown: Cheerleading.

    Martinez, M. (2013). UCLA study links concussions to Alzheimer’s disease.

    Sonnone, B. (2013). ‘Who is going to be next?’ Concussions among girls in sports raise red flags.

Published On: June 14, 2013