Spring-Free Does Not Equal Safe: Why Backyard Bouncing is Risky

by Sue LeBreton

iStock_000010789578XSmallWith the warm weather comes the pleading in my house for a backyard trampoline. For years, I have used the Canadian Pediatric Society’s position on trampolines as the solid medical reference for my refusal. However, I now see families who had previously banned trampolines cave to the trend, relenting because they believe that the new spring-free trampolines are safer and I wondered if that could be true.

Despite the addition of nets and the introduction of spring-free models, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Pediatric Society jointly reaffirm their position against backyard trampoline. They consider jumping on a residential trampoline a high-risk activity. Thanks to gravity, what goes up must come down and it is the impact from landing improperly that results in injury. The most commonly reported injury is ankle sprain.

Michelle Perkins, an ER nurse with three children who have never bounced on a trampoline, says that because they are still growing children are susceptible to growth plate fractures, the area of growing tissue near the ends of the long bones.  In an adult the same impact might only result in a sprain. “I see fractures to the forearm and the lower leg. They end up immobilized in a cast or requiring surgery. They are affected from a few weeks to two months or more.” Neck and spinal injuries, although less common, can have devastating lifelong consequences. These occur from falling off the trampoline or when somersaults or flips fail.

Trampoline injury rates have been declining since 2004 because of decreased sales of trampolines, not due to any improvement in the device.  You may have read that safety measures such as limiting jumpers to one at a time and ensuring constant adult supervision enables you to use these devices more safely. Gwenn O’Keefe, MD, FAAP, CEO and Editor-in-Chief of Pediatrics Now, disagrees. “The injury rate and type of injuries from backyard trampolines simply do not allow for safe use under any circumstances.”

If you have a child who loves to bounce or has dreams of going to the Olympics now that Trampolining is an Olympic sport, what can you do? “For people who want their children to have the trampoline experience, seek a gym where trampolines are in-ground and supervised by trained gymnastics professionals. This won’t completely avoid injuries, as we have seen with the Olympians, but it will significantly reduce them,” says Dr. O’Keefe.

What differences will you experience at a facility with trained gymnastic instructors? According to Brett MacAulay, Trampoline and Tumbling Program Director of the Calgary Gymnastics Centre the top three rules at his facility are: (1) control before height (2) one person at a time on a trampoline and (3) learn how to stop before you start. “In our setting we have highly trained coaches who know how to hand spot children as they learn each skill. These coaches also know how to use the safety tools which include: throw mats, overhead belts and foam pits.”

In the end it is your choice whether you allow your child to participate in a risky activity. Before you say yes to bouncing on the backyard trampoline assess the risks and ask yourself if you have the knowledge to intervene to prevent an injury or recognize risky behavior.

Sue LeBreton is a freelance writer who once worked at a Children’s Hospital where she learned about the risk of trampolines. She does not have a backyard trampoline.


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