Cheerleading is a common sport in high schools and universities but it is also popular as a competitive all-star sport. These all-star teams are often a variety of ages, they can be co-ed, and the teams practice multiple days per week for competitions. Due to the nature of the sport, cheerleaders are more susceptible to certain injuries, including low back pain.
Back pain in cheerleaders is often the result of repetitive movement rather than a one-time traumatic event. Overuse injuries in the back are due to repeated extension required by back bends, tumbling and standing for long periods of time. Many cheerleaders exhibit similar patterns of muscle imbalances including tight hip flexors, weak lower core muscles, weak glute muscles and excessively flexible hamstring muscles. These imbalances can cause the athlete to stand in an extended low back posture (sway back) throughout their daily tasks. This posture can place increased strain on the muscles, ligaments and joints of the spine.
Cheerleading has two main positions – flyers and bases. The flyers are the athletes who go up in the air for stunts whereas the bases are the athletes helping to hold them up, spotting and catching the flyers after a toss. Bases are at increased risk of injury compared to flyers.1 Bases are also at an increased risk for the extended low back posture when they are raising their teammate over their head. Both male and female cheerleaders can be affected by low back pain.
As mentioned above, cheerleaders tend to have weakness in their core muscles and glute muscles as well as tightness in their hip flexors. This pattern needs to be addressed to help protect the low back. An important component of preventing low back pain is postural awareness; cheerleaders need to be aware of their poor posture throughout the day and try to prevent a sway back posture by focusing on a neutral spine. A strengthening and conditioning program for cheerleaders should focus on core and hip strengthening.
A core strengthening program centering on a neutral spine is vital for cheerleaders. It is important that cheerleaders use the transverse abdominis muscle to prevent the “sway back” position. Begin strengthening by lying on your back to help cue when there is a neutral spine, as there will not be space between the back and the floor. Reminder that breathing is important during all core strengthening exercises. Once this neutral back is achieved in supine (lying face upward), exercises can progress to quadruped, plank, sitting on an exercise ball, and standing.
Although low back pain is common, posture and strengthening can help decrease the rate of low back pain in cheerleaders. If you have low back pain, visit your closest Athletico for a free assessment.
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1. Bagnulo, Angela. “Cheerleading injuries: A narrative review of the literature.” The Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association vol. 56,4 (2012): 292-8.