Playgrounds are exciting and fun places for children. They help build dexterity and they are a great place to make friends. Kids are wonderfully inventive and use playground equipment in many different ways, sometimes not intended by the manufacturers.
Each year in the United States, more than 150,000 children under the age of 14 are treated in hospital emergency rooms for injuries occurring on public playgrounds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). There are many ways to prevent these injuries and to lessen the injuries that do occur.
Types of Playground Injuries
Playground injuries range from bumps, bruises and cuts to life-threatening injuries like strangulation. According to the CDC, approximately 45 percent of playground injuries are severe. These injuries include: fractures/broken bones, internal injuries, concussions, dislocations, and amputations.
The vast majority of injuries on the playground are connected with climbing equipment and swings. Approximately 79 percent of equipment related injuries are caused by falls. Most of these injuries, are falls to the ground under the equipment, rather than onto another piece of equipment. Children can be hurt not only by the fall, but by being struck by the equipment as they fall. Something as simple as the drawstrings from a hooded sweatshirt can catch on a piece of playground equipment and can lead to a fall.
Children fall because they slip, lose their grip, or lose their balance while playing on the monkey bars, swings, merry-go-rounds and seesaws. Often, they fall on their outstretched hand while trying to protect themselves and sustain a fracture involving the elbow. This type of elbow fracture (supracondylar fracture of the humerus) is the most common injury that requires a trip to the operating room for treatment.
Parents and Injury Prevention
Supervision – Close supervision by a responsible adult may be the most important factor in preventing playground injuries. Age appropriate equipment and carefully designed playground layouts, by themselves, aren't enough to prevent all injuries that may occur. Adults must provide focused supervision. They must instruct children in proper use of the equipment and monitor and enforce playground rules. Parents, relatives, teachers, babysitters, or anyone who sends or brings children to the playground should periodically inspect the facility for hazards. Report any problems to the proper officials. Don’t let your children use that playground until any necessary repairs have been made.
Schools and cities should keep playgrounds in good condition by inspecting and maintaining the equipment throughout the year. Temperature extremes and weather conditions can damage equipment; so can heavy use. Equipment must be inspected to identify any loosening, rust, corrosion or deterioration from use, rot, or weathering.
Whether playground injuries are caused by falls or other types of contact, attention to three major factors can help reduce the incidence of injury: playground surface, playground design, and equipment installation and maintenance.
The type of playground surface is the most important factor in the number and the severity of injuries due to falls. Injuries can be reduced by using softer surfaces such as wood mulch, chips, shredded tires or sand.
Playground design should offer activities to encourage the development of perception and physical skills, including running, walking, climbing, dodging, swinging, throwing, catching, pulling, and pushing. There should be separate areas for active play (swinging) and quiet play such as sandbox digging. Sight lines in all playground areas should be clear to allow proper adult supervision.
As with all injury preventative efforts, everyone is responsible to actively note any failings that can cause injuries. These suggestions are but a few of the ways that prevention can lessen the number and the severity of childhood playground injuries.
Dr. Richard Jany is an orthopedic surgeon at Lower Umpqua Hospital. He specializes in shoulder and knee pain. He sees patients at Reedsport Medical Clinic. 541-271-2119