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Cheerleading injury prevention

How to prevent cheerleading injuries!

Rosemary Marchese – Physiotherapist

As the physiotherapist for Highrise Allstar Cheerleading I see firsthand how cheerleaders use their bodies in amazing ways. There’s a lot of tumbling (think back handsprings, flips, and twisting), jumping and stunting (seeing kids do incredible things in the air while supported by strong bases) and quite a bit of dance. As a cheer mum myself (with two daughters currently participating in the sport) I also get to see the intense hard work that goes on behind the scenes. But, unfortunately as with any sport, there are injury risks. Cheerleading, just due to the nature of the sport, is a high injury sport. However, there are loads of things we can do to make sure the athletes are as safe as possible.

What are the most common causes of cheer injuries?

While sometimes it can be pure bad luck, there are some injuries I see that are more common to cheer in my clinic. With all the jumping and tumbling some kids are more predisposed to heels (e.g. Severs’ disease) or knees (e.g. Osgood Schlatters disease). This is because these are two sites where children that are still developing have growth plates and making them more vulnerable in these locations. On top of this we have found some children with fundamental problems that predispose them to injuries. Weak hip and knees muscles for example, can predispose a child to injury when they land from a back tuck. Tight calf muscles or pelvic imbalances, or weak abdominal and gluteal (butt) muscles may make it hard for a flyer to balance in the air, which makes it harder for the bases to hold him or her.

Cheer-leading tends to attract a lot of hyper mobile children. The flexibility that’s often required, especially of flyers, makes them great candidates for cheer! However hyper mobile children often have problems with stability. In some cases I have been advised by the coaches that the child cannot perform some of their tumbling in a straight line. This has often led to investigations where we have found hyper mobility and sometimes even scoliosis. In other cases there can be some extra stiffness around joints or lack of muscle flexibility, predisposing them to injury or lack of progression in the sport. Together with the coaches and parents it’s vital that we try to work on the best plan of action for the child.

Overall, it’s paramount that the child understands that the coaches and physiotherapist are there to help them. While so many kids are super eager to progress their skills it’s important that they listen to instruction and perfect where they are at with their skills before trying to do something too quickly.

I took the time to interview Callum Docker, owner of Highrise All Stars about his experience with his great team at the club.

Physio: What is your biggest frustration when it comes to the fitness of athletes?

Callum (Cheer coach): People generally don’t associate cheerleading with the need to be a fit. Our sport has a connotation that it is dance and that we simply shake pom poms. That is grossly uninformed. Our sport requires high levels of dedication and physical activity. Each lesson begins with strength, conditioning and stretching followed by teaching the routines, running full-outs and working on individual stunts, tumbling and technique. Athletes who are unfit generally struggle to make the necessary changes and adaptations later in the session as their focus and energy levels are fading.

Physio: What are the typical characteristics of a great base?

Coach:  A great base is someone who is strong, is able to take corrections and do the best for their team not themselves. Bases/Backspots are the leaders of the group.

Physio: What are the typical characteristics of a great flyer?

Coach: A great flyer is someone who is able to keep a tight body, is flexible and has an excited personality in order to engage the crowd.

Physio: What are the typical characteristics of a great tumbler?

Coach: A great tumbler is someone with a good strong core, body awareness and strength.

Physio: Explain why you sometimes refer to physiotherapy even if the athlete doesn’t have pain?

Coach: We can refer people to physiotherapy for a multitude of reasons, but one of the more common reasons (other than pain) we refer to a physio is when an athlete is struggling to get a particular skill. The issue may lay deeper than simply the athlete’s inability to perform the skill; such as muscular or skeletal issues, which a physiotherapist is able to identify and provide the right type of treatment.

For more information about physiotherapy specific to cheerleading call Max Sports Physiotherapy Clinic on (02) 8914 0508 or book online.

For more information about Highrise Allstars Cheerleading visit