My kids sometimes wish I was not a pediatrician. They claim we are “the only” family “in the world” without a back yard trampoline. I dislike those things so much I won’t even let them bounce on them at friends’ houses – and have my husband well convinced of their dangers, too. It didn’t take much to convince him – just a few injury reports and stories of some of the trampoline injuries I’ve seen at work. He didn’t want our girls to become part of those statistics!
I’m in good professional company with my concern over the dangers trampoline pose to kids. The American Academy of Pediatrics has always been worried about kids using backyard trampolines. Studies dating back to the late 1980’s and early 1990’s document the dangers of backyard trampolines and concerns over safety. The concern for child safety is so high that the American Academy of Pediatrics' most recent summer safety tip sheet contains this strongly-worded advice: “Parents should never purchase a home trampoline or allow children to use home trampolines."
I have seen lots of kids in my practice over the years injured as a result of backyard trampolines. All of them had fancy safety nets and were being supervised by an adult, but not all had followed the “one child bounce at a time" rule. Among the injuries I have seen:
- Broken arms and legs from contact with the side rail
- Concussions either from contact between a child's head and the side rail and from kids' heads bumping. A couple of these kids truly saw stars and didn’t remember the incident after
- Lacerations – some from the side rail and others from somehow bouncing off the trampoline and landing on something on the ground
- Abdominal injuries: landing on other kids, landing on the side rail
These are consistent with what the American Academy of Pediatrics has found in studies. What's the total number of kids injured a year? A 2007 study by researchers at Brown Medical School reported that trampoline injuries this decade have doubled compared to last decade. They reported that over ½ million kids were treated in emergency rooms for home trampoline-related injuries between 2000-2005.
Beware of moonwalks
Any thing that bounces in the back yard or at town fairs should be considered a trampoline and used with the same caution. So, if you go to a friend’s birthday party or your school’s end-of-the-year fair and you see one of those giant, cute, inflatable bouncy structures (most commonly called "moonwalks") don’t be fooled. They are just cousins of trampolines. They may appear safer because they are colorful, have a cute character on the top, are enclosed and bounce a bit less high. But kids bounce on them nonetheless, and not just one child. They are designed for many kids to bounce at the same time – and often with adults in the mix. I have yet to see one anywhere where some child did not come out the front door at some point in tears.
Come warm weather and I am bound to see a number of children in my practice injured after bouncing in moonwalks. The injury list is similar to that of trampolines but with two additional injuries unique to toddlers:
- Dislocated elbows/nursemaid’s elbows from parents grabbing hold as their child bounces in the wrong direction – often toward another child
- Toddler’s fractures (i.e. a break) of the tibia of the lower leg
Advice to parents: just say "no."
Parents usually say to me “but I have that special safety net and my trampoline is brand new”. Well, that doesn’t make it any safer. You’ve heard the expression, what goes up, must come down. What you have to remember with kids and bouncing is the control factor. Kids can control heading up to a degree but not at all coming down. Due to the laws of physics, the higher they go and heavier they are, the faster and harder they will fall.
Whether one child is bouncing, or two or more, there is just no way a parent can supervise this activity or a net can control the actual power of the bounce. A net can help a child avoid bouncing off the trampoline and on to the ground, which does avoid some injury. But, since most injuries occur as a result of collisions with other kids, landing improperly or landing on the side rail, the net doesn’t real offer the protection parents hope for.
The statistics speak for themselves and we need to start taking them more seriously. Just because there hasn’t been an outright ban of backyard trampolines doesn’t mean they are safe or you should buy one. The statistics speak for themselves and the expert opinions have been very clear and consistent for over two decades now. Keep in mind that the kids at most risk are the ones who are still growing and those are the ones who tend to gravitate towards backyard trampolines the most. As parents, we have to sometimes be the toughies who say “no”. That’s our job. You can always quote an expert if you need to.
Some of these injuries may not sound like a big deal to you. And, your child may have been lucky so far on your trampoline. But, guaranteed, that luck will run out one of these days. So, the question you need to ask your self is whether the few minutes of gleeful bouncing is really worth the risk of a catastrophic injury to your child’s developing brain and bones.
Gwenn Schurgin O'Keeffe, MD is a pediatrician living in the Boston area and the founder and Editor-In-Chief of www.Pediatricsnow.com.
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