Kids should stay off trampolines at home and at the playground, U.S. pediatricians urged Monday, saying emergency departments across the country see nearly 100,000 injuries from the bouncy mats each year.
The new statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) updates recommendations from 1999, which caused manufacturers to add safety features to the products in an attempt to mitigate the risks.
However, these measures may "provide a false sense of security," according to the group.
"As best we can tell, the addition of safety nets and padding has actually not changed the injuries we have seen," said Dr. Susannah Briskin, a sports medicine specialist who helped draft the new statement.
It's estimated that the number of trampoline injuries nationwide has been dropping - from 111,851 cases treated at ERs in 2004, to 97,908 in 2009. But that doesn't necessarily mean the devices have become any less dangerous, Briskin told Reuters Health.
"Even though there has been a decrease in injuries," she said, "I caution people against taking that too literally because the number of trampolines has also decreased."
The actual risk of hurting yourself if you step onto a trampoline is not clear, Briskin added, because there are no good data on national exposure. The rate of hospitalization due to the injuries is about three percent.
Mark Publicover, founder and president of JumpSport Inc, a trampoline manufacturer in San Jose, California, scoffed at the AAP's recommendations.
He said he invented a safety net that encircles the trampoline and cuts the number of injuries by half. And, he added, if parents ban trampolines, their children might start climbing trees, using swings or skateboards, for instance.
"If you look at all those activities, a safety-enclosed trampoline is safer by hours of use," Publicover told Reuters Health. "When they say, ‘Don't use trampolines with a safety enclosure,' they are going to increase the number of injuries."
Not just kids getting hurt
According to the new statement, published in the journal Pediatrics, three-quarters of injuries happen when more than one person are jumping at the same time, often when a small kid is bouncing with a heavier playmate.
The impact of the bigger kid will thrust the smaller one high into the air, upping the chances of a rough landing, particularly if the kid comes down at an awkward point.
"Most of the injuries actually occur on the mat itself," said Briskin, adding that she sees a lot of ankles sprains and fractures in her clinic, especially the young kids.
And it's not only kids who can get hurt. Earlier this year, New York Yankees baseball pitcher Joba Chamberlain dislocated his ankle while bouncing on a trampoline with his son.
"Not everything has complete recovery," said Briskin. "Head and neck injuries make up 10 to 15 percent of all injuries and those are the injuries that carry the greatest risk of leading to catastrophic damage."
About one in 200 trampoline injuries lead to permanent neurologic damage, according to the AAP, and such accidents are often caused by botched somersaults or flips.
While "strongly" discouraging recreational use of trampolines, the group says there is too little data to make recommendations on use in sports and structured training, which often includes a more-cautious approach.
For parents who are unwilling to stop their kids from using trampolines, the AAP offers a number of tips to make the activity safer.
Those steps include checking that your insurance policy covers trampoline-related claims; using the mat one at a time, having effective padding around springs and frame, placing the trampoline on level ground, avoiding somersaults and flips and actively supervising kids.
The new statement is in line with advice from other medical societies, which also discourage recreational use of trampolines.