Are Trampolines Too Dangerous for Kids?
Trampolines are a backyard staple for many families, but the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly discourages using them. Here’s what to know about common trampoline-related injuries and how to stay safe while jumping.
Backyard trampolines are more popular than ever, partly thanks to stay-at-home guidelines implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic. Kids love releasing excess energy by jumping, and parents appreciate that trampolines encourage motor development and physical activity. But do the benefits of trampolines really outweigh the risks?
Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons strongly discourage the use of home trampolines, especially for children younger than 6. That's because more than 1 million people visited the emergency department for trampoline injuries between 2002 and 2011, according to a September 2019 report from the AAP. Most patients were younger than 17 years.
"Unfortunately, injuries happen for the same reasons trampolines are fun," says Lori DeBold, M.D., vice chair of pediatrics at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center, in Fountain Valley, California. "A child has some, but not total, control over how high she bounces and where she lands.
Keep reading for more about common trampoline injuries and how to prevent them with expert-approved tips.
Trampolines Can Cause Serious Injuries
In worst-case scenarios, kids can end up paralyzed, brain damaged, or even killed from trampoline injuries. And the younger and smaller a child is, the more likely they are to get hurt.
"The most dangerous risks are neurologic injuries typically caused by doing somersaults, flips, or falling from the trampoline," says Wendy Hunter, M.D., board-certified pediatrician at Rady Children's Hospital-San Diego and assistant clinical professor of pediatric emergency medicine in the UC San Diego Department of Pediatrics.
That said, most trampoline injuries involve dislocations, sprains, head injuries, and broken or fractured bones. In fact, emergency departments are seeing rising numbers of trampoline-related pediatric fractures each year; the AAP reports that incidences rose from 35.3 per 100,000 person-years in 2008 to 53.0 per 100,000 person-years in 2017.
Nearly 75 percent of trampoline accidents are caused by children jumping at the same time and crashing into one another, reports the AAP. Unsurprisingly, the smaller child is 14 times more likely to be injured than the larger child. Other common causes of injuries include falling off the trampoline, colliding with the device's springs or frames, and incorrectly performing tricks like somersaults and flips.
Safety Tips for Using Trampolines
If you're still set on letting your kids use a trampoline, it's vital to take appropriate precautions. "Certainly trampolines are risky, but a few simple rules can reduce the risks of a trampoline greatly," says Dr. Hunter. Here are the top trampoline safety tips for parents.
Only allow one person on the trampoline at a time. Doing this decreases the cause of the most common trampoline injuries. "Create a communication system with special words that signal someone's turn is up, or have a time limit (and a timing device) for each jumper," suggests Dr. Hunter.
Forbid somersaulting and flips. Even older kids shouldn't attempt these dangerous tricks. They increase the risk of head, neck, and cervical spine injuries that can lead to disability or death.
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Buy the right safety equipment. Purchase shock-absorbing pads that completely cover the trampoline's metal frame, springs, and hooks. If you see tears, fraying, or other signs of wear in the padding, replace it immediately. Also put up a net enclosure, and carefully read your owner's manual to make sure that you have installed it properly. Don't allow kids to climb or hang from the netting.
Position your trampoline wisely. "It's important to put a lot of planning into the location and set-up of the trampoline," says Dr. Hunter. She recommends keeping the trampoline on level ground, away from other structures and trees.
Provide a separate hang-out spot for kids to wait their turn. "The fully netted trampolines don't have that space, but you can create one nearby where kids can watch their pals jumping. It's important to think like a kid when planning your play space," says Dr. Hunter.
Always have adult supervision. "Don't forget to make a comfortable place for an adult to hang out and supervise," says Dr. Hunter. Adults should also examine the trampoline regularly for wear and tear.
Brainstorm fun activities for kids. "Since you should have a rule against somersaults and tricks, you'll need to provide other fun challenges," says Dr. Hunter. For example, kids can throw balls at targets or in basketball hoops while jumping. You can also play a memory game where kids copy the moves of the person before them.
Consider your child's temperament. Many of the injury risks can be mitigated by following a few simple rules, so if you have a child who generally listens, they will be significantly safer on a trampoline, says Dr. Hunter.
Avoid mini trampolines as well. The AAP also advises against buying mini trampolines, which pose similar safety risks to full-sized trampolines.