Trampolines: Are they Safe for Kids?

Four kids jumping on trampoline outside

A Florida couple is living proof of how fast an afternoon of fun can turn on a dime, after their 3-year-old son broke his thigh bone at an indoor trampoline park in June. Kaitlin Hill, the child’s mother, then made it her mission to warn parents about the dangers of trampolines, and, like all matters of the heart, did so in a viral Facebook post.

According to CBS News, the post, which is now unavailable, read: “Our lives have been turned upside down since Colton’s accident and every day is a struggle for his sweet 3 year old self as he adjusts to life in a hip spica cast for the next 6 weeks,” Hill wrote alongside the photo of her son in a cast from the waist down.”… We hope by sharing his story it will prevent a child and their family from experiencing the trauma and heartbreak associated with trampoline injuries in young children.”

Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children’s Pediatric Orthopedic Surgeon Laurel Benson, M.D., unfortunately has had her fair share of patients from trampoline incidents. She recalls one particular case that has stuck with her even today.

“I consider myself fortunate. Most of the trampoline injuries I’ve treated are relatively minor and need straight forward, simple care,” the 23-year veteran surgeon said. “But once in my career, I had to take care of a little guy who fell on a trampoline and suffered a severe spinal cord injury. He was 7-years-old at the time and has remained paralyzed for his entire life.”

“It was heartbreaking and devastating for that child and family, and for all of us who had to think about what that incident did to a child’s life,” she continued.

ABC News reported that the Consumer Product Safety Commission estimated that in 2015 there were 107,100 trampoline-associated injuries treated in emergency rooms in the United States.

Dr. Benson gives us an insider’s look at the popular activity and the damage it can do to a child’s body.

Where do most trampoline injuries occur?

A majority of the time, the serious injuries that I care for, are those that happen right in the middle of the trampoline. We always worry about when someone falls off, would a net help? The statistics show that it really doesn’t help prevent the serious injuries; those happen in the middle of the trampoline.

Why do the serious injuries occur directly on the trampoline mat?

It’s bouncy. It should absorb force, but instead it stores energy. When a child jumps up and down on a trampoline, it recoils and that’s what gets you higher and higher in the air. And when you’re that high in the air, you have a greater force of gravity bringing you back down to the earth. Perhaps, a lot of people – not me, for sure – would be coordinated enough, athletic enough, have good enough judgement and balance to land that. But what if you’re a child who is still neurologically immature and trying to find out how to use their body? They are high in the air, coming down faster than they would have on their own and landing on a surface that’s not stable. Not only not stable, but has stored energy rushing up to meet them as they land. That makes the energy impact greater than you can imagine. That’s where the bad injuries happen.

What kind of injuries can that type of force produce?

I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve been in the operating room, taking care of a child who landed on a trampoline so hard, that when the arm broke, the bones came protruding out through the skin. How scary is that for anybody? What’s really amazing is that when I’m cleaning up those bones during the operation, I have to scrap the black rubber off the bones. They land that hard. The force is that significant. So, we can’t take trampolines lightly.

What are those in the medical community saying about trampolines?

Trampolines are considered to be so dangerous that some of the major organizations in the medical world, who take care of children, have really come across with very strong policy statements. Now, policy statements isn’t something that grand poobahs who have gray hair sit around in a room and say, “oh, let’s say we shouldn’t let kids jump on a trampoline.” Organizations like the American Organization of Orthopedics or American Academy of Pediatrics look at hundreds of thousands of cases of injuries. They see the worst of the worst. And they have statisticians who help them analyze those numbers and they are coming away with facts that are so overwhelming that they’ve issued public policy statements.

In orthopedics, they’ve said a child under the age of 6 should not jump on a trampoline. A child at the age of 5 can just barely jump up and down on the ground on one leg without losing their balance. Now let’s imagine him jumping high in the air and coming down on an unstable surface.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has pooh-poohed trampoline use of any kind of across the board, with one exception – supervised athletic training.

What do we do as parents?

We want our children to have a great time and to participate in birthday parties and fun events. We want them to move, be busy, laugh and be joyful. I know that life is dangerous. There are dangers everywhere. We don’t want our kids in bubble wrap, but as parents, we have to look at the facts we’re given and come to a heartfelt decision about the dangers we can live with. Can I live with this danger? Can I allow my child to do this activity? I let my kids ride horses and I know horseback riding is a dangerous activity. I tried to put all the safety features in play that I could, and in the end, it was a danger my family could live with. I personally did not let my children jump on trampolines. It really did come from that one little guy who injured his spinal cord all those years ago.

If parents decide to allow trampoline activities, what’s the best way to protect the children?

Parental supervision is key, and one child jumping at a time is crucial. Even with the restrictions, I still wouldn’t let my kids jump on trampolines. It was just too much danger for me to accept. But I want your family to be happy and healthy and live with the decisions you’ve made. The burden on us, as parents, is to make sure that we really do know the facts. And after we know the facts, we can make the leap of faith that we can live with the decision and keep our family happy.

There are great orthopedic surgeons all over the country who would be honored to take care of your child, and we at Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children would be just among that group. So, let us know if you need us, but we hope you stay safe.

Want to listen to this article out loud? View the Facebook live interview here.

Woman wearing black and white top. Headshot of Dr. Laurel Benson.

Dr. Laurel Benson is a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at HCA Healthcare’s Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children, part of the HealthONE hospital network in Denver, Colo.

About HCA Healthcare

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