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Practice more dangerous than competition for high school cheerleaders, concussion study shows

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Chapel Hill, NC — Unlike most prep athletes, high school cheerleaders are more likely to suffer concussions during practice than in competition, results of a recent study led by researchers at the University of North Carolina show.

Using data from the National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance Study for the 2013-2014 through 2017-2018 school years, the researchers identified 9,542 reported cases of concussions in 20 high school sports. Football had the highest overall concussion rate (10.4 per 10,000 athletic exposures) of all sports, including a rate of 5.0 in practice. Cheerleading had the next highest practice-related concussion rate, at 3.6 per 10,000 athletic exposures, compared with a rate of 2.2 during competitions.

The researchers point out that not all state high school athletic associations recognize cheerleading as a sport, which could mean some squads practice in substandard facilities and without proper safety equipment, such as mats. Approximately 400,000 high school students participate in cheerleading, with more than 123,000 as part of competitive cheer teams, according to a 2016 study published in the journal Pediatrics.

The study was published online Oct. 15 in Pediatrics.

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