group of cheerleaders performing

Cheerleading Knee Pain: Why Your Daughter’s Knee Is Locking Up

Cheerleading is a fun and athletic sport, one that your daughter loves. Unfortunately, she has been suffering from a “locked” knee or one that suddenly refused to bend for a period of time.


This problem causes her a lot of pain and has made it difficult to successful participate with her cheerleading squad. This has brought her down quite a bit, but thankfully there’s help. Fully understanding this problem can help you identify why your daughter’s knee is locking up and how cheerleading might contribute to the problem.

Causes Of A Locked Knee

The knee has to bear a lot of weight and it is one of the joints on the body that gets worn down the quickest. In cheerleaders, this is particularly a concern when they jump and put pressure on their knee.

A locked knee can really throw a cheerleader off of her game and even make it impossible for her to participate. The following causes of knee locking are among the most common:

  • Meniscus Tear – This piece of cartilage helps to cushion the knee and provide smooth movement. If it gets torn (even slightly), this can cause the knee to move around a more openly, causing it to lock up.
  • Floating Bone Fragments – From time to time, it’s possible that a very small portion of the knee bone may break off. It won’t be enough to damage the integrity of the knee, but it might get wedged in the joint and cause the knee to lock.
  • Swelling – When the knee fills up with excessive fluid (such as after an injury), this can make it more difficult for it to extend and close properly. This can cause the knee to lock, making it nearly impossible to open or close until the swelling goes down.
  • Inflammation – Problems such as gout and rheumatoid arthritis (probably not a concern for your daughter) may cause the muscles to inflame around the knee, making it more difficult for it to fully close and open.
  • Plica Syndrome – The plica, a tissue along the joint of the knee, can easily get irritated. When this happens, it causes a situation known as “pseudo-locking.” It isn’t as severe as true locking, because it’s typically only temporary.
  • Muscle Spasms – Injuries to the knee may cause it to become temporarily weaker or less balanced than it was before the injury. Unfortunately, this can cause muscle spasms that either feel like true locking (more “pseudo-locking” here) or contribute to a truly locked knee.

Whatever the cause, it is important to quickly identify it and to find a way to treat it. It is also important to understand how cheerleading contributes to potential knee locking. Though cheerleading isn’t exactly an impact sport, there are multiple ways that it can cause serious knee concerns.

cheerleading knee pain by Mueller Sports Medicine


How Cheerleading May Contribute To This Problem

As mentioned, cheerleading isn’t a heavy contact sport, but it still does put strain on the knee. In fact, the light wear-and-tear caused by cheerleading makes a problem like knee locking, rather than a more severe problem, more likely. Here are several ways that cheerleading can contribute to knee locking:

  • Falling during a routine – this can be especially problematic if the knee hits pavement or a gym floor.
  • Over-extension – jumping around, lifting their leg, and cheering excitedly can cause cheerleaders to over-extend their knee, leading to injuries that contribute to a locked knee.
  • Worn out from under-use – cheerleaders go for extended periods without cheering, which may cause it to get hurt when they get back to work.
  • Landing a routine from a high spot – cheerleaders are often thrown in the air during routines, which may cause them to land hard and cause the kind of damage that leads to a locked knee.

The nature of cheerleading makes knee locking more likely, and if it does occur in your daughter, there are a variety of treatments that you can use to manage the problem. Some of these must be prescribed by a doctor, so make sure to take her to a specialist the moment her knee starts locking.

Possible Treatments That Can Help

Even if your daughter’s knee locks up just one time, it’s still important to get the problem assessed by a professional. They can prescribe an appropriate treatment that can reduce the problem’s severity or end it completely. Typical locked knee treatments include:

  • Anti-inflammatory medicines – these help reduce the inflammation and pain that comes with a locked knee.
  • Muscle relaxants – decreases knee stiffness and relaxes muscles that may be causing locked knees.
  • Physical therapy – careful stretches, massages, and knee manipulations can decrease pain severity and stop the knee from locking.
  • Surgery – in the case of serious concerns (such as meniscus damage or fragments loose in the knee), surgery may be necessary to balance the knee again.
  • Application of heat and cold – right after the knee locks up, apply cold to reduce the swelling and then heat to relax the muscles: 20 minutes of each should be enough.

While you obviously want to avoid surgery whenever possible, it might be necessary if the problem is severe enough. Just make sure to apply heat and cold, as mentioned above, when the knee does lock in order to keep the problem from becoming too serious.

It’s also worth knowing how your daughter can change her cheerleading routine and workout routine to avoid getting a locked knee in the future. These adjustments aren’t too difficult, but do require her to commit to them.

Ways To Avoid It Happening In The Future

To help your daughter avoid injuring her knee or getting knee lock, there are a few simple ways to adjust her exercise routines. The first is to get her to stretch her knee before doing any routines, including to the front, to the left, to the right, and folding it up to her body.

This will help relax any tense muscles and alleviate some of the pain that may be lingering. It can also help her prepare for the strenuous nature of her exercise or routines, making it less likely that she will suffer from a locked during before, after, or even during a routine.

If your daughter’s knee does lock up during practice, she needs to sit immediately and treat it with heat and cold. Pain medications may be helpful, such as Tylenol, as this will also help decrease swelling and other pain concerns. She also needs to sit out the rest of the practice or routine, no matter how much she wants to participate.

In fact, it’s probably best to keep her away from cheerleading for at least a day or two to give her knee chance to heal. Precaution is highly suggested in situations like this, as it will help keep the injury and locked knee from becoming even worse or destructive. By following these treatment guidelines, you can make a real difference in your daughter’s life.