Sledding Injuries Can Be Avoided with Safety Precautions

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Last week, much of the country was hit by a major winter snow storm that brought as much as 20 inches of snow in some areas of the Northeast. New York City, in fact, received its third major snowstorm in less than three weeks. Much of the Southeast was shut down for several days due to road conditions, but that didn’t stop children from enjoying “snow sports” such as sledding.

Children Should Wear Appropriate Clothing, Including Helmets when Sledding

Unfortunately, however, according to statistics by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, there were 160,000 sledding, snow tubing and tobogganing-related injuries treated at hospital emergency rooms, doctors’ offices and clinics in 2007 (the most recent statistics available), up from 74,000 in 2004.

The majority of injuries happen to youths aged 14 and younger and some injuries can be serious enough to cause lifelong disability or death. Young children are especially vulnerable to injuries as they have proportionally larger heads and higher centers of gravity than older children and teens. They also tend to have underdeveloped coordination which can lead to a difficulty avoiding falls and obstacles.

Read: Young Children Four Times More Likely to Sustain Head Injury When Sledding

Parents should ensure that their children take precautions to make sledding and other snow activities both fun and safe.

First, children should be dressed appropriately in warm layers and bright colors. He or she should always wear a helmet, as about 15% of sledding injuries treated in emergency departments are head injuries and 42% of these are brain injuries. Hoods and hats are not effective in reducing the impact of hitting a fixed object or if the child is thrown from the sled.

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Second, sledding should only be done in designated and approved areas where there are no trees, posts, fences or other obstacles in the sledding path. The run should not end at a street, drop off, parking lot, pond or other hazard. Sledding hills should have a flat run-off at the end.

Maintain constant adult supervision where children are sledding. According to the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 71% of unsupervised sledding outings ended in injury, but that rate drops to 29% when there is adult supervision.

Do not allow more than one child on the sledding slope at a time and instruct them to move out of the way quickly when they reach the bottom of the hill.

Read: Study Presents National Outdoor Recreational Injury Estimates

Third, use only approved sledding devices. Do not use plastic sheets or other materials that can be pierced by objects on the ground. Other “sled substitutes” such as cafeteria trays, cardboard boxes and detached automobile hoods may seem like great makeshift sleds, but they are difficult to steer and stop, increasing the risk of injury. The Consumer Product Safety Commission also discourages the use of sleds that can rotate, such as snow disks and tubes.

Fourth, children should always sit upright and face-forward, steering with the feet or an appropriate steering mechanism. Never “belly-flop” and go down a hill head-first.

Lastly, remember to protect children from the cold as well. Inadequate or wet clothing in cold weather dramatically increases chances of frostbite. Recommended clothing layers include a warm hat, a scarf or knit mask, mittens, and water-resistant coat and boots.

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