Cheer Dangers

Stripping Off the Pounds

Pole dancing is not just reserved for gentlemen’s clubs anymore. Many health clubs and dance studios offer the sensual workout as an alternative to aerobic and step classes. Instructors say it bolsters women’s confidence, improves their posture and body image, raises their self-esteem, and makes them proud of their sexuality. “And this isn’t a dirty thing,” Dr. Jim says. “It’s dancing, it’s aerobic, it gets their breath going.”

“It’s a real workout,” Dr. Lisa says. “Any time any woman feels good in her skin and feels self confident, it just shows.”

The Dangers of Cheerleading

The football field can be a dangerous place; but are the sidelines even more hazardous? Nearly 30,000 cheerleaders are sent to the emergency room each year with injuries ranging from sprains and strains, to fractures, to even paralysis and death. “In all fairness, this is just like football,” Dr. Ordon says. “The injuries, when they do occur, can really be serious. But you can’t stop living your life.”



Concussions are among the most common cheerleading injuries and occur when the brain hits against the skull after a blow to the head, causing bruising. Here are some warning signs and symptoms of concussions:

• Nausea or vomiting

• Headache and dizziness
• Confusion and amnesia
• Loss of balance
• Ringing in ears
• Sensitivity to light and noise

Many of the injuries occur during stunts that send the cheerleaders high into the air. A 100-pound girl tossed 25 feet in the air falls toward the ground at about 30 mph. If she hits concrete, she lands at a force of about seven tons, or 14,000 pounds! Dr. Jim demonstrates this by dropping a watermelon onto the stage from 25 feet in the air. Upon impact, the watermelon smashes into dozens of pieces. “It has serious consequences for bones and brain tissue,” Dr. Jim explains. “You can be seriously injured.”


A Tragic Stunt

Rechelle, 23, was a college cheerleader, but one stunt changed her life forever. As a freshman on the team she was asked to do a basket toss, where she would be thrown 20-feet in the air. Rechelle was concerned because one of her spotters was missing. “I felt a lot of pressure to continue with the stunt,” she says. “When I went up to do it, my spotters in my group missed me, and I landed right on my shoulders and fractured my spine.”


The injury left Rechelle paralyzed from the waist down, though recently she has regained some movement in her lower right leg. “I was at the spinal cord injury rehab center for six weeks,” she says. “I learned there how to function in a wheelchair, how to get dressed, to put my makeup on, to brush my hair.


“I had no idea it was such a catastrophic injury,” she continues. “I had no idea that this could happen to you in cheerleading.”


Rechelle’s family helps her through her therapy and with basic tasks every day. “It’s hard to see her not be able to really do what everyone else her age is doing,” Rechelle’s sister, Kristine, 20, says while fighting back tears.


Cheer Safety

Could Rechelle’s injury have been prevented? Some states regulate cheerleading as a sport, but no nationwide regulations exist. “A lot of things need to change,” Rechelle says. “But one of the most important issues is that it should be considered a sport. I think if that was able to happen, safety would be the top priority for these girls.”

Questions to ask

Here are a few questions for parents to ask when their child is involved in cheerleading:

Is the coach certified by the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators (AACCA)?
Have in-depth background checks been performed on the coaches?
Are safe, correct practice guidelines followed?
Are skills and stunts taught in the correct sequence?
Is there an emergency plan in place?

Rechelle also explains that her initial reservations about performing the stunt were difficult to voice. “You have to listen to yourself,” she says. “Being an athlete, you’re told what to do, and that’s your mentality. There’s no way I’m going to question what any coach said, so I did it. I was a rookie. I wasn’t going to be the one to get anyone in trouble or cause any conflict within the team, so I just did what I was told to do.”

To make sure the correct safety precautions are being taken on cheerleading teams, parents and participants should know “who’s coaching, if they are certified,” Dr. Lisa says. “You need to know what the safety implementations are. There are some devices that are out now to help detect for concussions. There are some vests, and things like that, that can be used for the kicking and the impact. You need to know about the equipment. Is the equipment up to date? You really need to check it out.”

While the sport can be dangerous, with the correct safety precautions it can also be very fulfilling. “It’s very athletic, it’s a workout, it’s social,” Dr. Ordon says. “It really is a great thing.”

Knee Rehab

John from
Huntington Beach, California, sends in a home video asking The Doctors for help. He explains that he was hit by a drunk driver several years ago and is still struggling to rehabilitate his knees, which were badly injured in the crash.Dr. Travis gives John some possible rehabilitation suggestions:

•Exercise and rehab on the knee

Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) brace

Top Three Health Club Hazards

3. Faulty Gym Equipment

The gym is supposed to help you stay healthy, but can it actually be hazardous to your health? It was for
Leon, 39.

While using a squat machine, a faulty piece of equipment malfunctioned and caused a fracture in
Leon’s neck. He was paralyzed. “I never could have guessed that going to a gym to be healthy could actually be detrimental, or even life-threatening,” Leon says.

Fitness expert Denise Austin joins The Doctors to discuss dangers at the gym and how to avoid them. She advises checking the equipment and having a spotter when using heavy weights

“Make sure, when you get to the gym, you make sure the equipment is in a good place, it’s healthy to be there,” she says. “It’s good to get out there and exercise, go to the gym, but just make sure you’re smart.”

• Equipment should be stable
• No loose nuts/screws
• No rattling or strange noises
• Cables in good condition
• Get proper instructions


2. Germs

With so many people using machines, weights and mats in a gym, the fitness club can be a bacterial breeding ground. While most people are aware enough to wipe down the handle bars on cardio machines -- which makes them among the cleanest pieces of equipment -- other areas can contain a colony of bacteria. Some of the major germ-infested areas in a gym include the yoga mats, bike seats, steam room and the showers. You can protect yourself, however.


“Wash your hands. I bring my own mat when I travel. Also, use a towel. A lot of gyms have towels,” Denise says. “Make sure you use your flip-flops in the shower. That’s the number one thing; don’t go barefoot because the showers are where it’s disgusting.”


“But don’t stop going to the gym. Don’t stop exercising,” Dr. Ordon says. “We’ve acknowledged that we’re germaphobes nowadays, that it’s clean, clean, clean, but it’s normal to have a certain amount of bacteria that they found.”


1. Under-Qualified Staff

Trainers at gyms are meant to assist you while you work out, but an under-qualified one can do more harm than good. Injuries such as pulled muscles and broken bones can occur from improper warm-ups, cool-downs and use of equipment. “You wouldn’t go to a doctor who wasn’t qualified, so why would you in exercise education?” Denise asks. “I have my [college] degree, specialized in exercise physiology. So ask your instructor her or his qualifications. It’s very important.”


Qualifications can include a college degree in a health-related field and/or certifications from nationally recognized organizations such as the AmericanCollege of Sports Medicine. “If you’re going to the gym, you want to know you’re going to be taught in the right way,” Denise adds.


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OAD 1/14/09