By Lindsey Tanner
AP Medical Writer
CHICAGO — Cheerleading isn’t just jumping and waving pompoms — it has become as athletic and potentially as dangerous as a sport and should be designated one to improve safety, the nation’s leading group of pediatricians says.
The number of cheerleaders injured each year has climbed dramatically in the last two decades. Common stunts that pose risks include tossing and flipping cheerleaders in the air and creating human pyramids that reach 15 feet high or more.
In a new policy statement released online Monday in the journal Pediatrics, the American Academy of Pediatrics says school sports associations should designate cheerleading as a sport, and make it subject to safety rules and better supervision. That would include on-site athletic trainers, limits on practice time and better qualified coaches, the academy says.
Just like other athletes, cheerleaders should be required to do conditioning exercises and undergo physical exams before joining the squad, the new policy says.
“Not everyone is fully aware of how cheerleading has evolved over the last couple of decades. It used to be just standing on the sidelines and doing cheers and maybe a few jumps,” said Dr. Cynthia LaBella, a sports medicine specialist at Chicago’s Lurie Children’s Hospital and an author of the new policy.
But she said cheerleading often results in injuries that include severe sprains, broken arms and legs, neck injuries and concussions.