Young Skateboarders at Risk for Concussions and Fractures

Inspired by X-Games, experts at Hospital for Special Surgery provide tips for safe skateboarding

New York—July 22, 2011 

Two-wheeled tricks and stunts will draw millions of viewers to ESPN’s 17th annual X-Games from July 28-31 in Los Angeles. But they may also land thousands of children - eager to replicate the stunts seen on television — in emergency rooms around the country with preventable injuries such as fractures, sprains and concussions.

While research from the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) shows that almost one-third of skateboarding injuries occur in beginners, experts at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York say the increasingly extreme nature of stunts performed by more experienced child and adolescent riders, coupled with improper use of protective equipment, is a major risk factor for injury.

“The number of young amateur skateboarders performing extreme stunts like freestyle skateboarding down high railings and stairwells is on the rise,” says Shevaun Mackie Doyle, M.D., a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Hospital for Special Surgery.

Extreme skateboarders aren’t the only ones getting injured; city kids who use skateboards as a primary mode of transportation are at high risk, too, says Dr. Doyle. In 2009 alone, nearly 75,000 skateboarding injuries were recorded – the majority of cases being children under the age of 15, almost a 25 percent increase since 2004, according to the CPSC and Safe Kids USA.

Not wearing proper protective equipment like wrist guards or a helmet is often to blame.

Dr. Doyle most frequently sees wrist and shin fractures caused by skateboarding falls, which can put riders out of commission for up to four weeks with a cast or splint. Head injuries, some potentially life-threatening, are another common skateboarding injury that typically occurs when a rider slips off the board either doing a trick or hitting uneven pavement, hitting his or her head on the ground.

“Falling as little as two feet can cause skull fracture and brain injury,” says Dr. Doyle.

Safe Kids USA estimates that wheeled sports such as bicycling, skateboarding and inline skating account for almost 50 percent of head injuries that occur in children engaged in recreational activities, including football and soccer.

These injuries are also common in BMX biking, another popular X-Games event, when young riders mimic the extreme antics seen on television in parking lots, parks or off-road. Flipping over handlebars can result in fracture and concussion.

As autumn fast approaches, Dr. Doyle reminds children not to imitate the extreme riders they see in the X-Games as they ride their skateboards back to school. She advises parents and children to keep the following tips in mind to prevent skateboarding injury:

  • Never let children under the age of 5 years old ride a skateboard; poor balance makes them especially susceptible to falls.
  • Younger skateboarders should try a tripod with two wheels in the front or a razor scooter with handle bars. These vehicles provide more stability and appropriate protection on level surfaces, making them a better form of transportation for city kids.
  • Perform tricks in a designated skate park with a controlled setting—wider, smoother and more level surfaces.
  • Wear appropriate gear—wrist and chin guards and a special helmet that covers the back of the head.
  • Wear protective equipment at all times, even for short bursts of activity like a trip to see a neighbor or the park just down the street.
  • Be mindful of your surroundings and terrain changes. Dismount the skateboard and run through areas plagued by potholes, excessive rubble, gravel surfaces or crowds of people—carrying the skateboard under your arm.
  • Remain on the sidewalk at all times. Never ride in the road.
  • Don’t skateboard on rainy days—concrete can become slippery, creating a dangerous environment even for experienced skaters.
  • Maintain a balanced diet with calcium and vitamin D to keep bones strong.

“Following these simple safety rules will help reduce preventable and potentially life-threatening injury to our children, making our streets, skate parks and playgrounds safer,” says Dr. Doyle.

About Hospital for Special Surgery
Founded in 1863, Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) is a world leader in orthopedics, rheumatology and rehabilitation. HSS is nationally ranked No. 1 in orthopedics, No. 2 in rheumatology, No. 19 in neurology, and No. 16 in geriatrics by U.S.News & World Report (2011-12), and has received Magnet Recognition for Excellence in Nursing Service from the American Nurses Credentialing Center, and has one of the lowest infection rates in the country. From 2007 to 2011, HSS has been a recipient of the HealthGrades Joint Replacement Excellence Award. A member of the NewYork-Presbyterian Healthcare System and an affiliate of Weill Cornell Medical College, HSS provides orthopedic and rheumatologic patient care at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital at New York Weill Cornell Medical Center. All Hospital for Special Surgery medical staff are on the faculty of Weill Cornell Medical College. The hospital's research division is internationally recognized as a leader in the investigation of musculoskeletal and autoimmune diseases. Hospital for Special Surgery is located in New York City and online at www.hss.edu.

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