Backyard Trampoline Can Cause Serious Injuries
Question: I am the grandmother of two preschool children. I am concerned about the number of trampolines that I see in backyards of our communities. I know the children seem to enjoy them, but I am wondering whether there is any danger to their developing muscles. Are we seeing an increased number of children in emergency room because of falls from trampolines?
I am glad that you raised this concern. There is definitely a steady increase in the number of backyard trampolines all across Canada. Emergency room physicians are seeing more injuries caused by the use of trampolines, especially in young children.
Unfortunately data collection in Canada regarding these injuries is not as complete as in United States. As a result, I will use US data here to give our readers a general picture of the dangers of trampoline in their backyard.
Popularity of trampolines started to increase in United States since early 1990s, preceding Canada by several years. The warmer climate and longer period of use from spring to fall likely accounted for the difference in these two countries.
In United States, trampoline-related injuries almost tripled between 1991 and 1999. About 2/3 of the injuries occurred in children between 6 to 14 years of age. Children under 6 were not exempted, they actually accounted for 15% of all injuries due to trampoline. Most of these injuries occurred on trampolines at home.
Many of the injuries are minor bumps and sprains. However, many serious injuries, including fractures, are happening to these children. These injuries can occur on all parts of the body. Head and neck injuries are the most serious. Neck injuries usually happen when children tried to do flips or somersaults and landed on their head or neck instead of on their feet.
Every year, many children are paralyzed for life as a result of trampoline injury. Between 1990 and 2000, six deaths were reported to the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The victims ranged from 3 to 21 years of age. The 21-year-old person died 6 years after injury on the trampoline. Most deaths occurred when victims fell from the trampolines and injured the spinal cord in their neck.
Almost 75% of all injuries happen when more than one person is on the trampoline at the same time. Because they all bounce around at different heights and directions, accidents tend to happen more frequently. Data have shown that lighter children are 5 times more likely to be injured than heavier ones in this kind of injury.
Most backyard trampolines have exposed steel frame and spring mechanism. When children fall on the metal, the impact can be very significant and resulting in major trauma.
It was interesting to note that more than half of all trampoline injuries occurred when adults were present, watching their children. These accidents happened so quickly that injuries were simply unavoidable.
I have listed these statistics to impress upon everyone that backyard trampolines are not safe, and can cause serious, and sometimes fatal injuries. If your grandchildren’s parents are considering purchasing one, you should let them know that children under 6 have the highest incidence of injury on trampoline. This may be partly related to their relatively immature motor development.
However, since hundreds and thousands of trampolines are already present in backyards across Canada, it is very important for parents to consider the following suggestions in order to reduce the chance of injury to their children and friends.
Since many injuries occur when the body hits the steel frame and springs, children should be required to bounce close to the centre of the trampoline. Some newer trampolines are equipped with padding which covers the metal parts, therefore reducing the impact, and chance of serious injury, if a child does land there accidentally. If the trampoline does not have such padding, parents should purchase and use it all the time.
Another new safety feature is a net enclosure around the trampoline. This can prevent a child from falling off the equipment onto the ground, although it is not completely fool-proof. Setting the trampoline away from trees, fences, poles, and other objects, can also prevent injury following accidental falls. Placing the trampoline among tall grass can soften the impact.
Ladder should never be placed beside a trampoline to prevent young children from climbing onto it and risk serious injury. Children under 6 should not use trampolines that are higher than 50 cm (20 inches) above the ground.
Parents should inspect their backyard trampolines regularly to ensure that the structure is intact, and there is no tear in the bouncing surface. Injuries have occurred because of equipment failure.
In addition to equipment safety, parents should set rules that children have to follow if they want to enjoy the trampoline. It is important to explain to them the rules are there to protect them from injury. Since many injuries occur when children bump into each other, never allow more than one person to use the trampoline at any time.
It is also important not to allow children to bounce and jump off the trampoline. Many injuries occur this way. They should, instead, stop jumping and let the surface stabilize before sitting down at the edge of the trampoline and get off.
Although adult supervision does not totally prevent injuries, I believe parents and caretakers should still be around whenever children use trampoline. If they see the child is attempting an unsafe move, they can warn the child against it, and hopefully prevent serious injury from happening.
Some authorities recommend having spotters around the trampoline to catch a child and reduce the risk of injury. However, the spotters have to be big and strong enough to protect the jumper, otherwise one risks injury to multiple people.
If a child is interested in flips and more complicated stunts, it should not be tried on those backyard trampolines. These should only be performed in specialized trampolines, and supervised training is necessary. Safety harnesses and spotting belts are required for athletes to learn and practice more challenging skills that one sees on television. They should never be attempted at home.
Finally, homeowner insurance may one day catch up with these backyard trampolines. Friends and neighbours who suffer injury may lay claim to the owner’s insurance policy. Since trampoline injury is a relatively new phenomenon, we still don’t know whether it will lead to unforeseen nightmares for some families.