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Examining the Risks of Concussion on Playgrounds

Updated May 16, 2023 | By Wilson Kehoe Winingham staff

When it comes to concussions and traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), people are far more aware of the risk of receiving one and the potential damage TBIs can cause than they were just a few years ago. Thanks to activists like Bennet Omalu (the doctor portrayed in Concussion), news coverage of the billion-dollar settlement between the National Football League and former players, and public awareness campaigns such as the HEADS UP program of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), TBI is no longer the silent epidemic it once was.

Research has not only come a long way toward defining the problem but has also identified better ways to treat this kind of injury, and new technology to prevent it is currently being tested. Recent data analyzed by the CDC, however, shows that one group might be more at risk for TBI than previously realized: young children.

Steep Increase, Reasons Unknown

Led by a researcher at the University of California-Los Angeles, the team looked at more than a decade’s worth of reports of playground injuries in children under the age of fourteen. The study found that each year, on average, more than 21,100 children in that group had suffered TBI in a playground accident between 2001 and 2013. Perhaps more worrying, the study revealed that this number has increased noticeably since 2006.

The research can’t say definitively what’s caused this increase, but it’s been suggested that more children are using playgrounds that have been poorly maintained or have broken equipment. It’s also possible that the uptick has something to do with a general awareness of the problem—parents may now be more likely to take a child to a doctor after a serious fall because they’ve been educated about the risks, or they may remember problems they experienced from head injuries: A recent survey found that almost one in four Americans have suffered from a concussion at some point in their lives.

Play Injuries Abound

Concussions and TBIs may now be a big concern, but other playground injuries continue to happen as well. In fact, concussions only make up about 3 percent of documented playground injuries. Broken bones, cuts, scrapes, bruises, sprains, and internal injuries all happen more frequently, and they can also be very serious. Fractures make up an alarming 35% of playground injuries that show up in emergency departments. Though this is the case, TBIs do occur, and most often on monkey bars, swings, and other climbing equipment.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that more than 200,000 emergency room visits are made every year because of a playground or home play equipment injury. While most of these incidents are not life-threatening, more than 100 children die each year from these play injuries.

When it comes to the specifics of concussions, the good news in the CDC report is that only around 4 percent of the injuries are serious enough that a child is kept at the hospital for observation. 

Exercise Caution and Supervision

Parents, caregivers, and other supervising adults should be aware of the potential dangers. The CDC study noted that falls from monkey bars (gym sets) and swings combined for around two-thirds of the concussions. Slides contributed as well, and no piece of equipment can be considered completely safe (“other” accounted for more than 15 percent of injuries).

These statistics should neither be seen as a reason to panic nor as justification to keep a child indoors all day or dress them in bubble wrap for a trip to the playground. Adults should simply understand where and how injuries take place and keep an eye on their youngsters. When you go to a playground:

  • Check what material is under the play structures. Softer material like sand or mulch are safer for children
  • Read age recommendations for the equipment your child wants to play on
  • Check for safety measures like guardrails, or hazards like medium-sized rocks or stumps.

When a bad fall happens, they should be mindful of it, and if it’s serious, seek a medical evaluation for the child. 

Contact a Brain Injury Attorney Today

If you or a loved one have suffered from a brain injury, contact the Indianapolis Brain Injury Attorneys of Wilson Kehoe Winingham. The lawyers at WKW can help you get the compensation you deserve. Call 317.920.6400 or fill out an online contact form for a free, no-obligation case evaluation.

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