Sledding is a hazardous sport for kids

Dec 6, 2010 at 10:01 a.m. ET

Sledding is a popular winter pastime, but it leads to a trip to the emergency room for more than 20,000 kids each year, according to a new study by safety experts at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. Before you bundle up this season, be aware of the sledding risks for kids and ways to sled safely.

Kids on sled

Thrill-seekers love tobogganing down an icy hill with its blast of wind and bumps or jumps – most kids are fearless and don't think twice about the danger. But according to a study published in the September issue of Pediatrics, sledding is a dangerous sport.

Brain injuries result from sledding collisions

In the study, the most common sledding injuries were fractures (26 percent), followed by cuts and bruises (25 percent). The study also revealed that the majority of injuries occurred during a collision (51 percent), and that collisions were more likely to result in a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Overall, the head was the most commonly injured body part (34 percent). While the majority of injuries occurred at sports or recreation areas (52 percent) or on private property (31 percent), patients injured while sledding on a street or highway were more likely to sustain injuries to the head, be diagnosed with a TBI, and be hospitalized than were patients injured at other locations.

Assess sledding location to reduce risk of injury

"Two of the main factors that contribute to sledding-related injuries are the environment and locale," says study co-author, Lara McKenzie, Ph.D., principal investigator in the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital.

"To reduce the risk of injury, sledding areas should be clear of trees and other obstacles and should have sufficient run-out areas away from streets. In addition, sledding on streets and highways should be avoided to prevent collisions with motor vehicles and other traffic," she adds.

The use of motorized vehicles to pull sleds was another finding of concern. More than one-third of the injuries sustained while being pulled by a vehicle were fractures.

Danger: ATVs pulling sleds

Study findings indicate that ATVs pulling sleds is a common practice – and one that has safety experts concerned. McKenzie, also a faculty member at The Ohio State University College of Medicine, says that the potential for serious injury is all too real. She advises that children should never ride a sled pulled by a motorized vehicle of any type including all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), snowmobiles, cars, trucks, tractors, motorcycles, dirt bikes,and lawn mowers. (Yes, lawn mowers!)

Other sledding safety precautions

Additional safe-sledding tips include making sure scarves are wrapped and secured around your child's neck so there's no chance of a trailing scarf getting snagged on snow, causing an accident. Make sure boot laces and zippers are done up carefully. As with any winter sport, wearing a helmet is always a good bet to protect your child's head.

Data for the study was collected from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS), which is operated by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. The NEISS data-set provides information on consumer product-related and sports- and recreation-related injuries treated in hospital emergency departments across the country.

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