By On September 13th, 2013

Cheerleaders Are Underreporting Concussions, Putting Themselves at Risk

San Diego State Cheerleaders

Source: Flickr

One of the biggest hurdles in preventing serious brain injury or impairment from brain injury in younger athletes is getting them to report their own injuries or symptoms.

A study from earlier this year showed nearly half of high school football players said they would not report a concussion if they had one for the sake of staying off the sidelines. Sadly, it appears cheerleading has the same problem. The New York Times says a new report published in the Journal of Pediatrics indicates a fair amount of cheerleaders may be underreporting symptoms either because they don’t understand they are injured or do not want to get pulled from competition.

This is a particularly dangerous possibility for cheerleading, as the study also says cheerleading has the highest rate of catastrophic injury in all of sports, accounting for 66 percent of injuries in women severe enough to result in possible permanent disability, long-lasting medical condition, or a shortened life expectancy. While there have always been those who simplify cheerleading, it is clear their high-flying routines can come at a heavy cost.

Interestingly, it seems the majority of those who are hurt aren’t the girls being thrown into the air. Instead, most of the injuries are coming from cheerleaders who were basing or spotting someone else, meaning the person catching the “flier.” Of less surprise is the data showing the rate of these injuries raises with the level of competition; collegiate cheerleaders were found to have five times the chance of head injuries compared to high school cheerleaders.

The new study evaluated junior and senior high school cheerleaders with head injuries, hoping to quantify how they report and recognize their injuries. The researches used the popular concussion diagnostic tool the ImPACT test to compare preinjury data from 138 girls to their postinjury scores. The researchers saw that 37 percent of those who did not report symptoms showed at least one abnormal ImPACT composite score, suggesting they were impaired in some way.

One of the biggest concerns with underreporting such as this is the fear that girls who are cleared for return to competition may be putting themselves in great danger. Concussions can do damage to a brain, but repetitive concussions in close succession raise the risk of severe brain injury exponentially. Not allowing your brain to heal before another injury runs great risk of even worse damage.

If these girls who are incapable of identifying their own brain injuries or are attempting to hide their injuries are allowed to return to competition and practice, they are placing themselves in a highly dangerous position that could prove fatal. This just goes to show the importance of creating more objective brain injury tests that improve upon the ImPACT system to ensure we catch the brain injuries that are slipping through the cracks, and protect the children who are injured from themselves.

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