February 28, 2013

Melissa Arca: Backyard trampolines a clear danger to kids

It's quite ironic that I was an accident-prone child.

It's quite ironic that I was an accident-prone child.

I was a climber and a risk-taker who delighted in jumping off beds, rolling down driveways on skateboards (on my belly) and doing dangerous tricks on my bike. I have the scars to prove it.

Fast forward 30 years, and I'm a pediatrician and (slightly) overprotective mom who sees danger around every corner. I'm constantly chiding, "Be careful" and "You shouldn't do that – you'll wind up in the ER or worse!"

Not only have I done risky things that caused me to get hurt, I've seen (and see) the results of these little risk-takers' risk-taking. Fractures, sutures, concussions and all.

Still, I don't want to put kids in a bubble. They need to live, play and learn.

And jumping on trampolines? My inner risk-taking child would have delighted in one of those in our backyard. No doubt you would have found me there every chance I got. They're fun, good exercise and can be quite therapeutic.

But they can also be very dangerous.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently reaffirmed its stance on those big outdoor recreational trampolines that are in many backyards today. It firmly cautions parents against their use, and for good reason.

Most recent studies estimate that 98,000 injuries per year occur as a result of trampoline use, sending 31,000 people to be hospitalized annually, some with severe, life-altering injuries (spinal cord and neurological damage).

Netting and other safety gear have not been associated with a decrease risk of injury. In fact, it gives parents a false sense of security.

More important, young children are most at risk of being injured on a trampoline. Fractures and severe sprains account for 48 percent of injuries in children under age 5. Recently I saw a preschooler with a fractured forearm – the result of trampoline-jumping gone wrong. She was jumping with multiple other siblings and friends and simply landed hard on her arm.

This is typically the scenario with such injuries since we know that 75 percent of injuries occur when two or more people are jumping simultaneously. That risk increases when you have a small child jumping with bigger kids.

Add older kids trying to do somersaults and tricks on trampolines, and the risk for severe injury escalates.

So for me, I've seen too much to feel comfortable with having one in our own backyard, and I strongly caution parents against them too.

Let me be clear: I'm talking about backyard trampolines and not those in gymnastics studios under direct supervision and coaching, or the tiny indoor models used for core-toning. If you plan to have a backyard trampoline or let your child jump on one, these are the safety measures to take:

Do not allow children under 6 to jump.

Only allow one jumper at a time.

Allow no somersaults or tricks.

Jumping should always occur under direct supervision of an adult who is willing to enforce and moderate the trampoline rules.

Do not be lulled into a false sense of security just because a trampoline has safety nets or other protective equipment.

I'm well aware that kids do several things on a daily basis that could potentially land them in an emergency room, waiting to be casted or sutured up. As parents, we do our best to ensure their safety without compromising their willingness and ability to take risks.

I think that's important.

But equally important is arming ourselves with important safety information in the hopes of balancing childhood risk taking with injury prevention.

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