MAYWOOD, Ill. – A hearty snowfall brings anticipation for one of winter’s highlights – sledding. The adrenaline from speeding down an icy hill, feeling the snow spraying your face and the wind’s icy fingers nearly taking your breath away can be exhilarating. There is nothing like tearing down a perfect sledding hill to get rid of cabin fever. However, serious injuries can accompany the winter fun if precautions are not taken.
Tens of thousands of children are injured each year with nearly half of the injuries occurring in January.
“There are some hidden dangers to sledding. It’s a great winter pastime, but there are risks involved. Parents need to be aware of these risks to help prevent injuries,” said Terri Cappello, MD, pediatric orthopaedic surgeon at Loyola University Medical Center.
Fionnuala Farrell, 14, learned the hard way about the perils of sledding.
“It was the first snowfall and I wanted to go sledding on the hill behind our house. I hit a bump and landed on my ankle,” Fionnuala said.
“She couldn’t move she was in so much pain,” said Mary Farrell, Fionnuala’s mom. “Her ankle was swelling so we elevated her foot and gave her medication for pain, but it didn’t help. I’ve never seen her like that. She felt her mouth go dry and nearly vomited because of the pain.”
The Farrells took Fionnuala to Loyola’s Immediate Care Center in Homer Glen, where after an exam and an X-ray, she learned she had fractured a growth plate in her ankle. Fionnuala was transferred to Loyola Hospital and referred to Dr. Cappello for care.
“When someone is Fionnula’s age and has an ankle injury, it’s common for the growth plate of the bone to be involved,” Cappello said. “The fact that she couldn’t put any weight on the ankle was a good indication it was broken.”
According to Cappello, a child with this type of injury could be immobilized for up to three months.
“It can take this long for the area to heal and the child to return to full activity,” Cappello said.
Though injuries to the extremities were the most common in older children, children 6 and under most often suffered head and neck injuries.
“Parents don’t often think about putting a helmet on a child when they go sledding, but if the child is under the age of 6, it’s important. Also, never let your child sled head first. Injuries have been associated with the leading body part. If you lead with your head, you’re more likely to get a head injury,” Cappello said.
Here are a few tips to keep kids safe this winter:
Adult supervision is critical. Forty-one percent of children injured while sledding are unsupervised. Go with your kids or make sure an adult is at the sledding hill. An adult should assess the area to make sure it’s safe and respond should an injury occur.
Check out the location. Sledding should only be done in designated areas that are open, obstacle-free and groomed. Most injuries occur when a sled collides with a stationary object. Make sure there are no trees, poles, rocks, fences or cars in the sledding area. Also be on the lookout for other sledders to prevent collisions.
Ensure the end of the run is safe. What is at the bottom of the hill? If there is a parking lot, pond or street, it is not a safe place to sled. Safe areas have run-outs that are far from water and automobiles.
Wear helmets and warm clothing to prevent injuries. If you have children under the age of 6, do not let them sled without their helmets. All children should wear several layers of clothing for protection from injuries and cold.
Always sled feet first. To reduce the risk of head injuries, do not let your child slide head first. Sledders should sit in a forward-facing position, steering with their feet.
“Sledding is a great winter activity and, if parents take precautions, they can decrease or prevent injuries so kids can have fun,” Cappello said.
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Based in the western suburbs of Chicago, Loyola University Health System is a quaternary care system with a 61-acre main medical center campus, the 36-acre Gottlieb Memorial Hospital campus and 28 primary and specialty care facilities in Cook, Will and DuPage counties. The medical center campus is conveniently located in Maywood, 13 miles west of the Chicago Loop and 8 miles east of Oak Brook, Ill. The heart of the medical center campus, Loyola University Hospital, is a 569-licensed-bed facility. It houses a Level 1 Trauma Center, a Burn Center and the Ronald McDonald® Children’s Hospital of Loyola University Medical Center. Also on campus are the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, Loyola Outpatient Center, Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine and Loyola Oral Health Center as well as the LUC Stritch School of Medicine, the LUC Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing and the Loyola Center for Fitness. Loyola’s Gottlieb Memorial Hospital campus in Melrose Park includes the 264-bed community hospital, the Gottlieb Center for Fitness and the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Care Center.