In the United States, cheerleaders range in age from 6 through adulthood. However, no matter what the age or physical condition of the athlete, ligament, muscle and tissue injuries can occur during an awkward jump or stunt landing.
The most common injury in sports is a lateral ankle sprain. This injury occurs in cheerleading by rolling the ankle over the outside of the foot An ankle injury often occurs when landing from a jump or stunt, planting awkwardly during a tumbling routine or stepping on a teammate’s foot when moving into position to form a base.
A lateral ankle sprain causes damage to the ligaments just below the bone on the outside of the ankle. In some cases a “pop” is felt or heard by the athlete.
Treatment recommendations vary with the severity of the injury:
- Mild sprains require rest but not necessarily medical treatment (follow the PRICE treatment plan listed below).
- Injuries with persistent swelling, pain or any deformity should be seen by a physician.
A common injury in cheerleading is an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) sprain or tear, which occurs when the knee is twisted forcefully or hyperextended. This often happens when landing from a jump or planting awkwardly during a tumbling routine.
Athletes with a damaged ACL often describe a “pop” at the time of injury, followed by a lot of swelling within a few hours.
When to see a medical specialist
Athletes should see their pediatrician or a pediatric sports medicine physician if pain and/or swelling persist after PRICE treatment. In addition:
- In younger athletes, bone maturity helps to determine the treatment plan. Injury to an open growth plate required special consideration by a pediatric orthopedic specialist.
- Training in proper jumping and landing technique may help to prevent this injury.
Knee pain that comes on slowly over time can indicate other problems, such as:
- Patello-femoral Pain Syndrome (Runner’s Knee) — This is pain in the front of the knee related to muscle and tissue stress around the knee cap. This can be addressed with proper training in physical therapy.
- Osteochondritis Dissecans — This defect in the knee’s cartilage than can become evident over time during repetitive activity such as jumping.
- Osgood-Schlatter Disease — This is a stress-related inflammation in a growth center at the front of the knee.
- P rotect the area with a sling or crutches, if necessary.
- Rest the injured area.
- Ice the injury for 20 minutes at a time. Do not apply the ice directly to the skin.
- Compress the injured area with a wrap. Do not pull tightly, as this can cut off circulation.
- Elevate the injured area above the heart, if possible.