Dr. Cynthia LaBella, member of the AAP Council on Sports Medicine & Fitness and co-author of the new guidelines, said cheerleading programs need to have access to the same level of qualified coaches, medical care and injury surveillance as other sports.
"Cheerleading has become extremely competitive in the past few years, incorporating more complex skills than ever before," LaBella said in a statement. "Relatively speaking, the injury rate is low compared to other sports, but despite the overall lower rate, the number of catastrophic injuries continues to climb. That is an area of concern and needs attention for improving safety."
Only 29 state high school athletic associations recognize cheerleading as a sport and the National Collegiate Athletic Association does not include competitive cheerleading in its list of sponsored sports. LaBella said this was important because being classified as a sport gives athletes protection including qualified coaches, well-maintained practice facilities, access to certified athletic trainers, mandated sports physicals and surveillance of injuries.
Since 2007, there have been 26,000 U.S. cheerleading injuries annually. Cheerleading mishaps account for 66 percent of all catastrophic injuries of high school female athletes over the past 25 years.
Cheerleading is one of the highest risk sporting events for direct catastrophic injuries that can result in permanent brain injury, paralysis or death, LaBella said.
The guidelines were published published in the November issue of Pediatrics.