Last February, Vestavia Hills senior cheerleading captain Alex Tankersley suffered a knee injury during the preliminary round for nationals. Alex tore her ACL - the Anterior Cruciate Ligament - leaving her out of the sport for six months.
Luckily for Alex, through rehab and a successful ACL surgery, she was able to improve and was recently selected to the Ole Miss varsity cheerleading squad.
ACL tears like Alex's have become more common in female athletes, and they don't just happen in cheerleading.
The Centers for Diesease Control and Prevention reveal that, "overall, girls are eight times more likely to suffer an ACL injury than boys."
The doctors at American Sports Medicine Institute (ASMI) are working to avoid these all-too-often career-ending injuries from research at ASMI's biomechanical lab based in Birmingham at St. Vincents Hospital.
"The mission of ASMI is injury prevention and research," said Dr. Jeffrey R. Dugas. "We are actively working in cheerleading, which is something that hopefully is going to make a difference. [At the biomechanical lab, we observe] the forces going through their ankles, their knees, their hips, their shoulders and things like that."
Force plates are an important component of the reserach done by ASMI at the biomechanical lab.
"The force plates measure your force 1,000 times a second," said Dr. Glenn S. Fleisig. "We need to measure fast because an impact is a lot of force over a really short time."
That measured force combined with the slightest error in technique can lead to an injury like Alex's.
"I was watching when Alex got hurt last year," Dr. Dugas said. "During the video of her injury, her knee pronated, came across. When she buckled her knee coming down from a tumbling pass. That's how she tore her ACL, which is a common mechanism for tearing the ACL."
The research produced from the biomechanical lab has helped Dr. Dugas and a company out of Texas called Topical Gear to create an orthopedic specifically for cheerleading called "Cheer-thotic." You can purchase the orthotic at https://www.topicalgear.com/products/cheer-thotic/
"When I was working with Team USA they were all complaining about how their feet hurt," Dr. Dugas said. "Their shoes were pretty flimsy and designed to be held by the bases. They are also not very supportive. So, the idea came up. The Cheer-thotics are designed to hold the arches up instead of allowing the athlete to pronate. We are hopeful that these will cut down on the injuries."
So that athletes like Alex can worry less about injuries and focus more on competing safely.
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