Cheerleading and Catastrophic Injuries: Is Cheerleading the Most Dangerous Female Sport?

If you think cheerleading only involves cute pom-poms and piggy tails, well, think again. Because according to studies, it is by far the most dangerous sport for female athletes, accounting for a number of serious injuries and even fatalities.

Gone are the days when cheerleading only involved cheers and yells at the sidelines during the main sports event. Today, cheerleading means flawless dance moves, executing professional stunts, and doing dangerous acrobatics. Not to mention the thousands of hours they had to give to perfect a complex choreography.

So, as much as we enjoy watching talented pep squads make tall human pyramids, it’s time to acknowledge the dangers of this particular sport. Moreover, it’s also critical to learn more about the possible injuries cheerleading might cause and what to do during such emergencies.

Statistics on Cheerleading-Related Injuries and Hospitalization

Over the past 25 years, there has been a dramatic increase in cheerleading-related injuries. For instance, according to research, hospital emergency visits due to cheerleading injuries increased from 4,954 in 1980 to 26,786 in 2012. Other relevant statistics that support this include the following:

  • A study conducted by The National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research (NCCSIR) found that collegiate cheerleading accounted for 70.5% of all female catastrophic sports injuries and high school cheerleading for 65.2% of all high school female sports injuries.
  • High school cheerleaders will experience an average of 3.8 injuries throughout their career, while college-level athletes will suffer an average of 3.5 injuries.
  • Overall, football and cheerleading have the highest incidence of fatal injuries and accidents. In fact, there was an average of at least one death per year on cheerleaders from 1991 to 2015.

Besides performance accidents, some of the most common causes for the high injury rate include lack of proper equipment, poor training and conditioning, and inadequate coach supervision.

What Are The Common Cheerleading-Related Injuries?

With continuous training all year round, it’s not a surprise that cheerleaders suffer recurring injuries yearly. Furthermore, performing gymnastics and acrobatics means using your extremities and joints to their full extent. Although highly flexible and robust, these are not immune to wear and tear due to overuse.

As a result, most cheerleaders sustain muscle sprains, strains, fractures, and dislocations during practice and competition. In severe cases, athletes may also experience head injuries, concussions, and skull fractures. 

Here’s an in-depth look at the most common cheerleading-related injuries:

Strain and Sprain

Two of the most common types of injuries many cheerleaders suffer from are strains and sprains. These two has been used interchangeably, but they are actually different from each other:

  • A strain happens when you injure the muscles or tendons of the body. 
  • A sprain involves an injury to the ligaments (responsible for attaching a bone to another bone).

According to studies, the most common cause of sprain and strain injuries are acrobatic stunts (34%) and tumblings (32%).


A fracture refers to a broken bone that can either be partial or complete. In cheerleading, it typically happens in the ankles, wrists, arms, legs, and spinal areas of the body. Studies suggest that most fractures occur during practice (85%) while attempting a pyramid or a stunt (89%).

In worst-case scenarios, cheerleaders may suffer a catastrophic skull or neck fracture, especially when doing flips and tosses.


Another serious cheerleading-related injury is dislocation of the shoulders and elbows. This happens during quick movements, bad landings, or stunts that have gone wrong. 

Head Injuries

The American Association of Neurological Surgeons stated that cheerleading is one of the top sports with the highest prevalence rate of head injuries. This ranges from mild bumps and bruises to a traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Some of the most common symptoms of TBI include a change in consciousness, recurring headache, motor impairment, and sensory changes. 


Another common catastrophic injury in cheerleading is a concussion, which has an increasing rate of 26% since 2012. A concussion refers to a type of traumatic brain injury that occurs when the brain gets shaken within the skull. 

Additionally, having a concussion can disrupt normal cognitive function either temporarily or permanently. Some of the common indicators of this trauma include the following:

  • Headache or feeling of “pressure” in the head.
  • Appears dazed, stunned, sluggish, or groggy
  • Dizziness, nausea, and vomiting.
  • Confusion and difficulty in remembering prior events.
  • Brief loss of consciousness.
  • Balance problems and blurry vision.

In most cases, symptoms of concussion appear immediately right after the head injury. But sometimes, it takes a few hours before symptoms appear, so it’s important to seek medical help at once.

Whether mild or severe, all concussions are dangerous. Any athletes who have suspected concussion should NOT return to cheerleading practice or competition until seen by a doctor.

What to Do During a Catastrophic Injury?

Being one of the most popular sports among high school and college students, it’s clear that injuries connected with cheerleading are not a minor issue. As we know, it is a sport that involves a lot of acrobatics. And all kinds of gymnastic stunts, including throwing a person up to 30 ft in the air. 


We have to remember that cheerleading as we know it nowadays is actually quite a recent development. Compared to 1970s pom-pom shaking and vocal cheering, cheerleading of the 2000s is a completely different – and much more dangerous – sport. Injuries are more common, including brain and catastrophic injuries.


For mild sprains and strains, first aid treatments may be done, such as RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevate). But during severe pain or catastrophic injuries, you should immediately seek medical attention.

For head injuries, even if you only attained a mild injury or you don’t feel any symptoms, it’s still vital to visit a doctor at once. 

Most patients sustaining a traumatic brain injury might require rehabilitative treatment to recover completely. This can range from physical and occupational therapy to neuropsychology and social support.

Where to Find the Best Inpatient Neuro Rehab Near Me?

If you or your loved one suffers from a catastrophic injury, you can find the best care at NeuLife Rehab一a facility that provides specialized rehabilitation programs for a wide range of catastrophic injuries. 

With over 200 years of collective clinical experience, our team of experts brings the highest level of care to patients through individualized treatment strategies and intensive therapies. We aim to work with you hand in hand so you can achieve maximum independence and seamless reintegration into your community.

Besides neuro rehab, we also provide various treatment programs and services, such as:

Receive your comprehensive and customized rehabilitation treatment program by contacting us at 800-626-3876. You can also visit our residential and 24/7 inpatient rehab in Florida to check our facilities and meet our care team. You can also schedule a tour around our modern, patient-friendly facility. We are looking forward to seeing you! 


The material contained on this site is for informational purposes only and DOES NOT CONSTITUTE THE PROVIDING OF MEDICAL ADVICE, and is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional medical judgment, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your health.


Dedicated to providing the highest caliber of care to individuals with brain injuries, NeuLife Rehabilitation is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF).
Learn More

Our Partners


Let Us Help...

We know that choosing the next step in your recovery from a catastrophic illness or injury is complex. Together, we can help you take the next step.

Contact us with any questions today.

linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram