The information on cheerleading injuries to young women is alarming:

  • Cheerleading is the No. 1 female sport and No. 2 in catastrophic injuries when compared to all sports – only American football ranks higher.
  • The National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research at the University of North Carolina reports that 65.2 percent of all catastrophic injuries in youth sports occur in cheerleading.
  • Cheerleader falls from gymnastic-type stunts have been reported to have a greater impact than being tackled by a professional football player.

A growing body of evidence indicates that the increasingly popular world of cheerleading has become one of the most dangerous athletic activities for women. Evolving from sideline squads that once led fans in school fight songs to high-powered, complex, acrobatic shows to motivate the crowd, cheerleading is racking up sprained wrists, twisted ankles, damaged knees, strained backs and sometimes much worse.

There are solutions to curb the sharp increase of catastrophic injuries – coaching education and new safety regulations like in other sports.

The growing facts and figures prompted the United States Sports Academy, National Cheer Safety Foundation (NCSF), and nationally-known sports safety and law experts to work together on projects to educate those involved in cheerleading on the care and prevention of such injuries.

Catastrophic injuries in cheerleading and other youth sports will be addressed at the Athlete Abuse Prevention Summit on April 29, 2011 in Boston. Dr. Robert Cantu, the Academy’s 2010 Dr. Ernest Jokl Sports Medicine Award winner, will deliver the keynote message at the Summit, updating sport professionals on the concussion crisis facing young athletes. Other speakers include: USSA National Faculty Members, Dr. Frederick Mueller, a national authority on sport injuries for the past 40 years; and Dr. Herb Appenzeller, a leading expert on sport law and risk management.

“Coaches don’t want to be in trouble for hurting kids,” NCSF founder Kimberly Archie said. “(Coaches) want these tools. They want this knowledge. They’re looking for this kind of education.” Archie will also be speaking at the Summit, along with two survivors of catastrophic cheer injuries – NCSF Executive Director Krista Parks and Laura Jackson.

Parks and Jackson’s stories both serve as cautionary tales. Parks was practicing when instead of flipping smoothly through the air and landing safely in the arms of a cheer teammate, she plummeted 20 feet headfirst into the gym floor, fracturing three vertebrae in her neck. Parks escaped permanent paralysis but now lives with unrelenting pain in her neck, back and head, irreparable nerve damage and memory problems. Meanwhile, Jackson is paralyzed from the neck down after she leaped into the air, flipped into a back tuck and landed flat on her back during tryouts for the Stevenson High cheerleading team in Livonia,

To prevent such injuries from happening to other young women, a major part of the NCSF platform has been to make cheerleading a varsity sport at the high school and intercollegiate athletics levels. This action would then make cheerleading governed by the same safety regulations as other sports, such as gymnastics.

“Cheer safety education based on the sports sciences is crucial in reducing catastrophic and over-use injuries in cheerleading,” Archie said. “Those involved need to insist that coaches are educated and trained to properly care for young athletes.”

To attend the Athlete Abuse Prevention Summit, you can register at The summit will begin at 8:30 a.m. and end at 4 p.m. Friday, April 29, 2011 at the Omni Parker Hotel in Boston, Mass. The Academy will offer continuing education credits for those who attend the Summit.

The Summit is sponsored by USA Sport Safety, the NCSF, the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research, the National Collegiate Acrobatics & Tumbling Association, and Impact, a provider of computerized neurocognitive assessment tools and services that are used by medical professionals.

The conference will give parents, coaches, trainers and athletes the chance to learn from pioneers of sport safety research about the prevention and treatment of sports injuries.

The Academy and the NCSF are also joining forces to develop an online NCSF Coaching Education Program to introduce science in cheer safety to reduce injury, disability and death from cheer-related accidents.