The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Rah! Rah! Foot Injuries in Cheerleading

Posted by on Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

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When I was in high school, I was a proud member of our school’s marching band. I know, you’re thinking, what, proud to be a band geek? Did you miss the “geek” part of that? Well, let me put it this way–our football team went 1-35 while I was there (and the one win was the last game of my senior year, a game I skipped) and our cheerleaders were so lackluster that they annoyed even the pathetic football players. There wasn’t much else to do at our school’s football games other than be entertained by the band. At least we put on a decent show.We used to torment the cheerleaders by drowning out their cheers with our own double entendre filled versions and changing tempos at rapid pace when they tried to dance to anything we were playing.  Let’s be honest, the squad was made up of a bunch of classic Mean Girls with minimal gymnastic skills who were pretty vicious to us “geeks” six days a week, so on the one day we ruled, we made life as miserable as we could for them.

Cheerleading has changed a lot since then (having an I Feel Old moment…). As anyone who’s watched a high school cheerleading competition in person or on TV knows, cheerleading now involves a stunning amount of hardcore gymnastics feats and physics-defying stunts that would terrify circus performers. (Should I admit now that “Bring It On” is one of my big guilty pleasure movies? Anytime I run across it on TV, I stop to watch. It’s true.)

It’s all exciting to watch, but it comes at a high risk–amongst high school sports, cheerleading has the second highest number of catastrophic injuries, outranked only by football. The National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research at the University of North Carolina reports (via the United States Sports Academy) that 65.2 percent of all catastrophic injuries in youth sports occur in cheerleading . Worse, many schools consider cheerleading an “activity” rather than a sport, a crucial difference when it comes to the insurance carried by the school that helps pay for injuries incurred during school-sponsored sports.

The worst injuries in cheerleading strike the neck, head, and back, but feet, ankles, and lower legs are at risk, too. Here are some common foot and ankle injuries suffered by cheerleaders:

Traumatic Injuries

Overuse Injuries

…and many other strains, sprains, and types of tendonitis that you can imagine.

As you can see from these lists, which cover just one section of the body, cheerleading can be pretty brutal.

Now let’s see how to protect your feet while cheerleading:

Practice…but not too much. Traumatic accidents often can’t be prevented; they just happen. Conditions aren’t going to be perfect 100% of the time and the littlest thing can turn a safe landing into a bad one. That being said, accidents also happen because someone isn’t quite prepared–one person is off by just one beat, or isn’t in exactly the right place. Make sure everyone knows what he or she is doing each step of the way when your team practices its most difficult tricks. Don’t move on until you all feel good about what you’re doing. On the other hand, don’t drive yourselves into the ground–accidents happen when you’re tired and overuse injuries come from, well, overuse.

Keep yourself healthy. Eat right and get enough sleep (see above, accidents happen when you’re tired). If you feel like you don’t know how to eat healthily for the amount of activity you do, talk to a nutritionist or trainer at a gym.

Practice in the right place. Make sure you’re practicing on a floor that has some give to it. Stay away from super hard concrete surfaces, not just because of the obvious fact that you don’t want to fall on your head on concrete, but because of the unforgiving pounding they’ll give your legs even if you’re just jumping around.

Make your feet strong. You can help your feet out by making them stronger. Try some foot exercises!

Wear the right shoes. As we always say–wear the right shoes for your activity. Practice in them too.

Get support. If you find your feet and lower legs are constantly aching after practice, you might need some support for your feet, especially if you have flat feet or high arches. You can buy arch support inserts  in drugstores, or see a podiatrist at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine (212.996.1900) to get custom fit orthotics. Arch support has made a huge difference for many cheerleaders.

Pay attention. Cheerleaders are just as competitive as any athlete and if they are injured, they’re going to try to keep going so they don’t let down their team. Many may try to hide injuries or ignore them, and that can lead to disaster. If you’re a coach or a parent, keep an eye out for any sign of discomfort when cheerleaders are landing on their feet or even just walking around. Then try to explain to them that it may be necessary to take some time off and heal completely so they can perform better in the long-term.

There! I hope this gives you some help with your foot and ankle problems while cheerleading! Stay safe and take care of your feet!

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If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.