Getting a jump on injuries

“It only takes a split second for a child to be seriously injured, but the effects of serious brain, spinal-cord or bone injuries can last a lifetime,” says Steven Koop, M.D., a pediatric orthopaedic surgeon at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare in St. Paul.

Koop, Stephen Sundberg, M.D., and Kevin Walker, M.D. - also pediatric orthopaedic surgeons at Gillette - regularly treat children with injuries to their arms, legs, heads and spinal cords. Asked what dangerous activities they’d like to see children avoid, all three doctors replied, “Trampolines.”

Notes Sundberg, “While the majority of trampoline injuries tend to be temporary inconveniences that destroy a child’s summer, all too often, they’re much more serious,” He adds, “One weekend when I was on call, I saw three children with injuries from trampolines that were severe enough to require surgery.”

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, backyard trampolines sent more than 211,000 kids to hospitals, doctors’ offices and clinics in 2003. Children ages 5 to 9 sustain about 20,000 of these injuries. That means the majority of injured children are older, heavier kids who - often as not - jump without supervision. That’s not good news. By virtue of their size, when older kids fall they sustain more severe injuries to their limbs, necks and heads than younger children do. In addition, because of their size, older kids who jump with others risk serious injury if they collide with their friends.

Angela Dias, for example, grew up on backyard trampolines. The 9-year-old attempted a back flip and failed to complete a rotation. She landed on the top of her head and sustained a compression fracture of her spine. Doctors noted that had she been older or weighed more, her injuries might have been worse. Angela agrees. “I might have been paralyzed,” she says. As it is, after 20 weeks she’s still wearing a body jacket 24 hours a day.

Says Angela’s mother, Louise Dias, “We locked up the trampoline until we could get it out of our yard.”

The alarming number of trampoline injuries prompted the American Academy of Pediatrics to call for a ban on home trampolines. It also urged families that had trampolines to get rid of them. For families who do have trampolines, Gillette doctors strongly advise allowing only one person at a time on the trampoline and providing adult supervision and instruction when someone is jumping. In addition, they recommend the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons guidelines listed below.

Keep Children 6 and under off full-size trampolines.

Use spotters when someone is jumping.

Place the trampoline jumping surface at ground level. Cover springs, hooks and frames, supporting bars and surrounding landing surfaces with protective padding.

Never use trampolines for unsupervised recreational activity. Lock up trampolines when they’re not in use.

Avoid doing somersaults or high-risk maneuvers without proper supervision and instruction. Perform these moves only while using proper protective equipment, such as a harness.

Given the number of injuries, it’s easy to see why physicians also caution about the dangers of monkey bars, skateboards, inline skates and bicycles.

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