Trampolines and “Jumpy Castles”: It’s all fun and games until someone breaks a limb

by John McKiggan

Risk = Fun?

As a child safety lawyer I have come to realize that an inevitable paradox of childhood is that the riskier an activity, the more children are drawn to it. This phenomenon is best illustrated by the backyard trampoline and the birthday favourite, so-called “Jumpy Castles”.

These especially entertaining apparatuses occupy children (and adults) for hours but they pose a significant risk of injury, particularly to younger children.

That’s why a report this week by CBC caught my attention.

More Dangerous Than We Realize?

In a statement issued Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) outlined the significant risks posed by backyard trampolines. The AAP estimates there were over 97,000 trampoline related injuries in 2009. The statement also assessed the injuries by age, noting that: “individual younger than 6 years accounted for 22% to 37% of individuals with a trampoline-related injury presenting to emergency departments for evaluation.”

More Kids = More Injuries

The report also noted approximately three-quarters of injuries occurred when multiple people were using the trampoline at the same time. But what do kids want to do? Play with other kids! Again, they are drawn to the riskier activity.

Catastrophic Injuries

The AAP statement goes on to note:

Cervical spine injuries can happen with falls but also commonly occur on the trampoline mat when failed somersaults or flips cause hyperflexion or hyperextension of the cervical spine. These injuries can be the most catastrophic of all trampoline injuries suffered.

While the operating instructions on the backyard trampolines specifically state that flips and somersaults should not be performed, again – kids will be kids. But the end result can be serious spinal cord injuries.

Kids Don’t “Bounce Back” From Injuries

There is a common myth that children recover from injuries faster than adults. The misconception is that kids are so resilient, they can ‘bounce right back’ meaning that their injuries will not have lasting effects.

In fact, a number of trampoline injuries can have lasting or permanent effects. The report states that 0.5% of all trampoline injuries result in permanent neurologic damage. Additionally, children 5-years and younger are at an increased risk of fractures and dislocations from trampoline related injuries.

Ban Trampolines?

The AAP report doesn’t recommend an outright ban on the use of recreational trampolines. But it does discourage residential trampolines and includes a number of safety recommendations.

Experience the Same in Canada

A similar article posted by the Canada Safety Council (CSC) notes that the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario sees approximately 50 trampoline-related injuries per year (that’s just one hospital!) They state that the injuries range from broken limbs to lifelong paralysis.

Ban Youngsters From Trampolines

CSC recommends that children younger than 6 should not be allowed to use the trampoline. While not strongly-discouraging the use of trampolines for other users like the AAP report, the CSC report makes a number of recommendations or “common sense measures” for the avoidance of injuries.

Physics the Same Everywhere

While the reports do not specifically address inflatable “Jumpy Castles” that are common-place at birthday parties and school fairs, the fact is that physics is the same everywhere. The same forces that can cause injury to a child on a trampoline can cause injury to a child on a “Jumpy Castle”. So I think parents need to consider the AAP and CSC reports the next time their toddler wants to bounce around with a dozen other children in an inflatable castle.

Safety Recommendations

Human nature being what it is, I don’t expect many people will actually act of the call for a ban.

But if you do have a trampoline the AAP report makes a number of recommendations to minimize injuries. Despite temptation, only one jumper should be on the trampoline at a time. Somersaults and flips should not be performed. There should always be adult supervision. Finally, if possible, trampolines should be set at ground level.

While kids will continue to be kids, and they inevitably will be drawn to risky activities, we can take these little steps to try to limit the risk and protect our children.

This article was originally posted on the Atlantic Canada Legal Examiner.

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