Concussions and other traumatic brain injuries are significantly on the rise in children, and it’s not because of sports.
A new study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds that playground accidents are the culprit, resulting in an average of 21,000 traumatic brain injuries per year among kids ages 14 and younger.
“It’s not just sports,” said study researcher Dr. Jeneita Bell, in a press release. “This study highlights the importance of other causes of traumatic brain injuries and concussions among children.”
The majority of the injuries occurred on monkey bars, swings and playground gyms, and two-thirds of them happened at schools or recreational sports facilities, according to the study. Six of every 10 injured were boys, and more than half of all the kids treated were between the ages of five and nine.
Researchers found that the number of playground-related head injuries in hospital emergency departments increased 61 percent between 2001 and 2013. The most notable increases were from 2009 forward, despite the innovations in playground safety that have occurred in recent years.
While the results might suggest that even stronger safety standards should be put in place, the study’s authors also acknowledge that the increases might be due at least in part to increased awareness of the potential dangers of concussions in children.
Dr. Andrea Kane, an Advocate Children’s Medical Group pediatrician on staff at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal, Ill., doesn’t want the numbers to keep parents from letting their kids enjoy a playground, though.
“Active play for kids is really important, and playgrounds are great places to encourage active play,” she says. “However, parents need to continuously supervise children while they are playing.”
She encourages parents to survey playground equipment prior to use to ensure safe equipment and age-appropriate usage.
The study recommends regular equipment maintenance and improvements in playground surfaces and environments, in addition to improved adult supervision.
Even the best preparation can’t prevent all injuries, however.
“When accidents happen, stay calm and assess the injury,” Dr. Kane says.