A Shocking Number of Kids Suffer Traumatic Brain Injuries at the Playground

A new study finds the number of kids treated for traumatic brain injuries suffered at the playground has increased significantly.

Kids are being injured on playgrounds more despite safety advancements.
Photo: Shutterstock

One would think given recent industry improvements to improve safety at the playground, serious injuries would be on the decline. A new study published in the June 2016 issue of Pediatrics, however, finds the exact opposite.

According to researchers, the number of kids treated in ERs for traumatic brain injuries suffered while playing at playgrounds increased significantly between 2005 and 2013. Believe it or not, each year an average of 21,100 children under the age of 14 were treated for serious types of brain injuries after climbing, swinging, sliding, and seesawing. Meanwhile, a total of 214,883 annual playground injuries were noted. This is concerning news, especially because so many of us parents think the playground is a safe place for our kids to burn off energy and just be kids!

Specifically, researchers discovered:

  • Two-thirds of injuries happened at schools and recreational sports facilities.
  • Most kids (95.6%) were treated and released (so that's a bright spot!)
  • More than half of kids who visited the hospital were boys.
  • More than half of kids treated for injuries were between the ages of 5 and 9.
  • Most injuries occurred during the week in April, May, and September, the times kids are most likely to be outside enjoying great weather.
  • The most dangerous pieces of playground equipment include monkey bars, playground gyms, and swings.

Study author Jeneita Bell, MD, MPH, Medical Officer at CDC's Injury Center tells Parents.com, "It is difficult to determine what specific risk behaviors lead to traumatic brain injuries on the playground or why emergency department visits have increased." She notes more studies are needed, but adds, "There are inherent risks associated with play in this setting, but measures can be taken to minimize the risk of any injury on the playground."

So what can parents and caregivers do to prevent their kids from getting injured? Bell recommends:

  • Checking that playground equipment has soft material under it such as wood chips, sand, or mulch.
  • Reading playground signs and using playground equipment that is appropriate for your child's age.
  • Making sure there are guardrails in good condition to help prevent falls.
  • Looking out for things in the play area that can trip your child, like tree stumps or rocks.

I'm definitely guilty of not adhering to signs that advise my 2-year-old against playing on the "big kid" equipment with her older sisters. It's just easier for all three of my girls to play together, rather than having to split my time supervising two play areas. I also rarely check out the equipment before my kids play.

This study is an important reminder to "lax" parents like me that accidents can, and do happen frequently, and you can never be too careful!

Learn more about traumatic brain injuries and more tips on how to prevent them on the CDC's website.

Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.

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