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Get a jump on trampoline safety

Dr. Robert D. Galpin is the last person kids and parents want to see when they decide to set up a trampoline in the yard.

“The trampoline business has been bugging me for years,” said Galpin, chief of orthopedics at Women & Children’s Hospital. “Injuries are so bloody common. Few die on a trampoline but there are lots and lots of fractures, and I’ve got some strong feelings about why they happen.”

When a patient comes to Galpin at the Buffalo hospital, the first question he asks is how someone got hurt.

“The second question when they say this happened on a trampoline is, ‘How many people were on the trampoline?’ I would say in 19 of 20 cases there was more than one kid, or a parent, on a trampoline. There was a big person and a little person. The little person is the one who gets injured every time.”

Statistics across the U.S. help explain why the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that mini and full-sized trampolines never be used at home, in routine gym classes, or on playgrounds.

There were more than 1 million emergency department visits from 2002 to 2011, the Journal of Pediatric Orthopaedics reported last fall. It also reported:

• 29 percent of those cases involved fractures; nearly 60 percent of those were of the upper extremities.

• The average age for those with fractures was 9.5 years; nearly 93 percent were age 16 or younger.

• 95 percent of injuries occurred at home, and nearly 10 percent of those treated were admitted.

• The total emergency department expense for all trampoline injuries over this 10-year period was slightly more than $1 billion, including $408 million for fractures.

“And this is just hospitals, not doctor’s offices, not urgent care centers,” said Galpin, also an orthopedic surgeon with UBMD Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine and professor of clinical orthopedics at the University at Buffalo.

Children injured on trampolines can suffer cuts or bruises, sprains or torn ligaments if they’re fortunate; broken bones, concussions or head and neck injuries if they are not. Women & Children’s tends to see one or two of the more serious cases every day of the summer, said Dr. Scott Bouton, emergency department director.

They are among the reasons why Women & Children’s handles more than 60 percent of its trauma cases when school is out, Bouton said. Other reasons include motor vehicle crashes involving children improperly strapped into vehicles, or struck while walking or biking on or near streets.

“Most children’s single trauma results from play-related activities,” Galpin said. Forearm and wrist injuries are “by far and away the most common,” he said. “Kids fall on an outstretched arm.” All sports generate their share of twisting injuries and fractures, he said.

“Trampolines sound like a lot of fun,” he said. “Anything can happen. You can’t put kids in a glass bubble. They’re kids. But families go out and buy these things … and I have this pet peeve about more than one kid on a trampoline, just because of the nature of the trauma I’ve seen.”

When Galpin was a kid growing up in London, Ont., he remembers he and fellow kids jumping alone on the trampoline, with spotters all around. That’s why the pediatric academy advises trampolines “should only be used in supervised training programs for gymnastics, diving, or other competitive sports,” and “only one person should be allowed on a trampoline at any given time.”

Here’s what else the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and American Academy of Pediatrics advise parents, should they choose to set up a trampoline at home.

1. Trampolines are not recommended for children under 6 years of age.

2. Trampolines should not be used for unsupervised recreational activity.

3. Safety net enclosures may give a false sense of security – most injuries occur on the trampoline surface.

4. Only one jumper on the trampoline at a time.

5. Spotters should be present when participants are jumping. Somersaults or high-risk maneuvers should be avoided without proper supervision and instruction; these maneuvers should be done only with proper use of protective equipment, such as a harness.

6. Equipment should be checked regularly; supporting bars, strings and surrounding landing surfaces should have adequate protective padding.

7. Check all equipment often; when damaged, protective padding, the net enclosure, and any other parts should be repaired or replaced.

8. Parents should check their homeowner’s policy and obtain a rider to cover trampoline-related injuries if not included in the basic policy.