Competitive cheerleaders and dance teams perform and compete against one another all year round. In the middle of a competition, a hand injury is the last thing on any of these young, talented athletes’ minds, but one accident can leave them unable to perform for weeks or months. So what are the common risks and how can you prevent them from happening?
Complex stunts and aerial maneuvers put hands and wrists at risk for injury, particularly when an athlete is catching a teammate or performing a complicated move themselves. Wrist and finger sprains, as well as fractures, are all common injuries that can occur when an unstable or hard landing causes the hand to bend or twist into an unnatural position.
Wrist fractures are common in dance and cheerleading, especially at the end of the distal radius, the larger bone in the forearm and in the scaphoid bone, one of the small wrist bones which lie beneath the thumb.
Tears in the ligaments, the stretchy fibers that connect our bones, can also be caused by a bad landing or performing without properly warming up the body. When ligaments stretch past their limits they can tear, partially or completely.
The most common ligament tears are between the finger joints, known as the proximal interphalangeal joints , and the thumb ligaments, known as the radial and ulnar collateral ligaments.
In the wrist, the most common ligaments injured are the triangular fibrocartilage complex ligament, which connects the wrist on the outer edge of the hand, and the scapholunate ligament, which stabilizes the small bones in the wrist. Ligament injuries cause pain and swelling, and their severity is often overlooked, leading athletes sometimes to seek treatment weeks after the original injury.
Because our ligaments keep our range of motion stable, an untreated ligament injury can lead to hypermobility issues and cause abnormal movement in the bones normally held in place by the damaged ligament.
While the risk of injury can never be eliminated in any sport, it can be reduced by taking precautions. Stretching before and after every drill or performance to make sure the muscles and ligaments are prepared can help prevent sprains and tears.
Be cautious when performing high-risk moves and avoid practicing on unstable ground, which can increase chances of falls that can break bones or twist joints to reduce the risk of hand injuries. When a move requires spotters, always make sure they’re in place before a routine begins. Bracing or taping areas that are weak or prone to injury can provide extra support and reduce risks as well.
If a finger or wrist injury occurs, immediately ice the injured area. Stop all activities that might worsen the injury and apply a brace or splint for stability until you are treated by a hand care specialist. Serious injuries may require surgical intervention and physical therapy.