March is National Cheerleading Safety Month, dedicated to educating parents, cheerleaders and athletic administrators about the orthopedic sports injury risks often associated with cheerleading.

The most common orthopedic cheerleading injuries include ankle sprains, ACL tears and lower back strains, as well as hand and wrist injuries. Ankle sprains can occur when a cheerleader lands on the outside of the foot, causing ligaments in the foot and ankle to stretch or tear. Likewise, wrist injuries can occur when a cheerleader falls on an outstretched hand. ACL injuries occur when an athlete lands from a jump, changes direction or hyperextends the knee, forcing the ligaments to rupture.

Cheerleaders are also susceptible to overuse injuries like patellar tendonitis (inflammation of the patella tendon in the knee) and Osgood-Schlatter disease (inflammation that occurs where the patella tendon and shin bone meet). They are also at risk for dislocated shoulders and spinal compression fractures.

Like any sports-related injury, cheerleading injuries require early medical intervention to avoid permanent damage and loss of function — and an athlete’s injury must be completely healed before he or she returns to the sport.

During the initial examination, a physician specializing in sports medicine will assess the athlete’s symptoms and range of motion to determine the right course of treatment. If necessary, the physician may order diagnostic imaging, such as X-rays or other tests, to evaluate the bones and soft tissue.

Depending on the cheerleader’s condition, treatment may include immobilization (splints), anti-inflammatories, injections or surgery. Physical therapy may also be prescribed for optimal recovery.