Though it’s one of the most exciting activities your kids can enjoy this time of year, Jennifer Janco, MD, Chief of Pediatric Medicine at St. Luke’s University Health Network, also says it’s a great idea to keep your head on straight when it comes to your child’s safety in light of the fact that 229,000 sledding injuries sent kids to emergency rooms across the country between 1997 and 2007.
Additionally, a 2007 study performed in upstate New York showed that kids reach an average speed of 19 miles per hour when sledding downhill—a pretty quick clip.
"Those are some serious figures, so it’s good to remember that sledding, while it can be a great time for the kids, should also be done safely, and supervised by adults,” says William S. Hoff, MD, FACS, Chief of St. Luke’s Trauma and Acute Care Surgery. “It’s also why I strongly recommend children wear helmets when sledding. It’s just as important as having them wear a bicycle helmet.”
Dr. Hoff says that, while fitting your son or daughter with a helmet before sledding may appear overprotective, you could be potentially saving them from very serious injuries that can occur. Of the 200,000-plus injuries mentioned above, 34 percent involved head injuries.
Other research, conducted several years ago at the University of Michigan also points to the need for children to be protected while sledding. Between 2003 and 2011, 52 children were admitted to his hospital with sledding injuries—20 of which were head injuries. More than 70 percent of them required admittance to the hospital’s intensive care unit. A full 10 percent ending in permanent disability for the child, according to the study.
“This research shows that, sledding accidents can cause life-changing injuries your child may never recover from,” Dr. Hoff says. “However, the same study showed that wearing a helmet can cut life-threatening sledding injuries in half.”
Dr. Hoff notes that there are a few other tips parents can follow to reduce head injuries during sledding:
• Use a safe sled, preferably one that can be steered. Many tubes and toboggans can be unsafe because they travel at very high rates of speed when going downhill.
• Sit face-forward on your sled, and avoid going down the hill headfirst. This can greatly increase the chance of head injury.
• Make sure the hill your child is sledding on is free of obstacles (e.g. jumps, ramps) and isn’t too icy. These factors can also increase chance of head injury.
• Supervise! Actively watch your kids and make sure they’re sledding in a safe and sensible manner.
“Make your kids wear helmets when sledding, particularly if they're 12 or younger,” asserts Dr. Hoff. “Helmets designed for winter sports work best, but at least be sure they at least wear a bike helmet or something similar. You could be heading off big trouble for your child.”