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Can sledding be dangerous?

Injuries from sledding are as common and severe as those from skiing and snowboarding. But, there are ways to prevent them from happening.


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December 29, 2016

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Sledding is a favorite wintertime activity for a lot of households. The moment the first snow of the season starts to fall, many kids are bundling up, grabbing their sleds and sprinting to a neighborhood hill.

But our trauma doctors want you to take a minute to realize that sledding can also be dangerous. Keep these three tips in mind each time you and your kids head outside with snow tubes, toboggans or traditional sleds.

1. Evaluate the hill – every time.

Changes can happen. Rocks that were buried a few days ago may have surfaced. Or, older kids could have built a jump or two. Check out the hill thoroughly even if you’ve been there before.

Look for trees, rocks and drop offs that are on the slope itself, and manmade structures like drain pipes and fences. Also keep an eye out for obstructions in areas alongside the hill. Anything that your child could hit if he or she lost control of the sled could be a danger. If anything you see makes you stop and think twice, head to a different hill.

Image: Can sledding be dangerous - son Johsaun Husted

“Now when my friends go sledding, I tell them to be careful. I tell them to look for rocks first.” - Johsaun Husted

When he was nine, Johsaun suffered a traumatic brain injury after smashing into a bed of rocks at a popular local sledding hill. Johsaun wasn’t wearing a helmet and was knocked unconscious. After the accident, he was rushed to the Level I Pediatric Trauma Center at Regions and Gillette Hospitals. Johsaun was bleeding from the head and had dizziness, vomiting, blurred vision and memory issues. Although his health has improved during the past year, he still struggles with short-term memory loss and vision problems.

2. Make sure you and your kids are properly geared up.

If you’re sledding on a shorter and more level hill with no obstructions, extra padded clothing will probably give you adequate protection. But if the hill is steep enough so that you’ll sled faster than you can run, use a helmet.

The sledding-related head injuries that emergency rooms see are just as severe as the head injuries people get when skiing and snowboarding without a helmet. That’s why doctors encourage you to consider sledding with a helmet designed for those sports. Helmets are designed to cover 90 to 95 percent of your head. The likelihood of taking a hit to the areas not covered is very small. Wearing extra padding around your neck can also give those uncovered areas more protection.

When you’re picking out a helmet for your kids, bring them with you. It’s important that the helmet fits them properly. And, it’s important that they think the helmet looks cool so they wear it.

Image: Can sledding be dangerous - Michael McGonigal, MD

“Unfortunately, the idea of wearing a helmet doesn’t even cross of a lot of people’s minds. Hospital emergency departments see a couple of dozen sledding injuries every year. And about a third of those injuries are to the head.” – Michael McGonigal, MD

Dr. McGonigal is the Director of Trauma Services at Regions and Gillette Hospitals. He was part of a team of experts who recently reviewed data on children seen at four Twin Cities emergency departments for sledding, skiing and snowboarding injuries. The team is urging kids to wear helmets while sledding after finding that sledders have equal rates of head injuries as skiers and snowboarders.

3. Stay close and keep an eye on your kids.

As any parent knows, accidents can happen even if you’ve taken safety precautions. Make sure you or someone you trust is actively watching your child each time he or she sleds down the hill. And, have a phone close by in case you need to call for help.

If your child gets injured, assess the situation and provide first-aid if necessary. If you suspect your child has suffered a head injury, don’t try to move him or her yourself. Call 911 immediately and wait for emergency officials to arrive.

Image: Can sledding be dangerous - mother Shaleah Husted

“You never know what could happen. We were having fun sledding. I went to the car to warm up and then everything changed in the blink of an eye.” – Shaleah Husted

Shaleah is Johsaun’s mom. She says if she were to go back and do the day again, she’d take extra safety precautions. She wants other families to be aware that sledding can have extreme dangers, so that other kids don’t endure the pain her son suffered. She encourages parents to have their kids wear helmets as it’s better to be safe than sorry.

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