If your child is interested in competitive cheerleading, it's important that you understand the risks that are involved before you let him or her join a squad. Statistics show that cheerleading has the highest rate of catastrophic injuries and concussions. Fortunately, there are a few safety precautions you can take before you sign your child up for competitive cheerleading. Here's what you can do.
Take your child to an optometrist for an eye exam
Whether your child will be a flyer, a base, or a back spotter, it's crucial that he or she is able to see clearly. Take your child to an optometrist for an examination. If your child does need corrective lenses, contacts are safer for competitive cheerleading than eyeglasses. With eyeglasses, there's a risk of facial injury if another cheerleader falls onto your child's face.
Depending on the availability of the optometrist at the time of the appointment, you may need to schedule another appointment for a contact lens fitting. This generally takes a long time for first-time wearers, especially children, because it includes a training session to teach the wearer how to insert and remove the contact lenses. Obviously, this can be difficult for those who are sensitive to having fingers directly near their eyes.
Another thing that is so important is that there are several serious health problems that can be detected by an optometrist during an exam, including conditions that could be detrimental to a competitive cheerleader, such as low blood sugar, multiple sclerosis, brain tumors, or idiopathic intracranial hypotension.
For more information on how an optometrist can help your child, check out websites like http://allabouteyes.com.
Get a mouth guard fitted at the dentist
Mouth guards are important for all sports, especially for sports like cheerleading where there is a great possibility of contact with other players. For example, if your child is a base, he or she may catch an elbow to their teeth when catching a flyer who is dropping into a cradle or a flyer who didn't nail a basket toss. Getting hit in the teeth can definitely cause a lot of pain and, possibly, severe dental damage, so it's a good idea to have your child wear a mouth guard when cheerleading.
However, you typically won't find mouth guards in sporting good stores that are specifically designed for cheerleaders like you would for football players. For this reason, it's a good idea to schedule an appointment with the dentist for a custom-fitted mouth guard, especially if your child has braces or another type of dental device.
Schedule an MRI through the pediatrician
Ron Courson, sports medicine director for the University of Georgia, has said that cheerleaders have had more concussions than football and soccer players. Also, concussions can result in serious injury or death if there is already something wrong that you may not be aware of that did not show up in the exam with the optometrist, such as a Chiari 1 malformation (CM-1). This is a medical condition in which a portion of the brain extends lower than it should into the spinal cord, which could prevent the cerebral spinal fluid from protecting the brain from strong forces of impact.
Therefore, it's a good idea to get a head and neck MRI before starting competitive cheerleading. That way, anything wrong can be found and dealt with, if necessary. Also, if an injury happens in the future, the medical team will be able to look back to this baseline MRI to see if there are any differences, which can be helpful in giving a proper diagnosis and in determining a treatment plan. If your child was prescribed a set of contact lenses, be sure to have him or her remove the contacts prior to getting an MRI.