By Dr. Eric W. Edmonds
Children (and many adults) love to jump on trampolines. It can be exhilarating to achieve heights not otherwise achievable with little legs. And, I am sure that you have heard it before, but trampolines can be unsafe. It is not unreasonable to argue that cars are unsafe, or that playing any sport is unsafe. However, trampolines do not have a set of rules that come with them unlike many other activities – unless parents enforce rules.
It is interesting to note that historical versions of a trampoline – many people holding a blanket – was done as a punishment to the person being tossed around. Fortunately, times change and we can now enjoy the trampoline. The modern design comes from a U.S. Olympian in 1936 and stems from the Spanish word for “diving board.” George Nissen and his business partner developed the apparatus to train people for tumbling, but soon it became its own gymnastic apparatus to perform “rebound tumbling.” Despite its start, the trampoline has only been a competitive Olympic sport since 2000.
Outside of competitive sport, the use of the trampoline is extremely popular. In fact, the late 1950s saw the opening of many commercial trampoline parks, and many indoor versions remain popular today. There are even variations on the trampoline which are quite popular with kids in the form of “bounce houses,” but these forced-air inflatable structures do not seem to carry the same risk of true trampolines.
The popularity of this apparatus is unlikely to wane because it is a relatively inexpensive form of entertainment that can be placed in your own backyard. Even with the advent of enclosure netting, there are over 50,000 childhood injuries being treated in emergency departments around the country on an annual basis.
More than 70 percent of the injuries are to children’s arms and legs, and the majority of these are fractures or dislocations. Younger children are also at increased risk for facial lacerations.
With all the research, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons provides some guidance for families who own a trampoline. Use of a trampoline requires careful adult supervision, and should not be used for unsupervised recreational activity. Only one child should use a trampoline at any time. Spotters (parents) should be present when participants are jumping. Somersaults or high-risk maneuvers should be avoided without proper supervision, instruction, and protective equipment, such as a harness.
The trampoline-jumping surface should be placed at ground level. Equipment should be checked regularly for safety conditions. A safety netting enclosure may give a false sense of security since most injuries occur on the trampoline surface. No child under the age of 6 should use a trampoline. For raised trampolines, trampoline ladders need to be removed after use to prevent unsupervised access by young children.
If these guidelines are followed consistently, then the risk of the “unsafe” trampoline can be minimized. This should allow for the high velocity fun to continue without any trips to the local emergency room.
Dr. Eric W. Edmonds is a pediatric and adolescent orthopedic sports medicine specialist at Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego and an assistant professor of orthopedics at UC San Diego. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.