Playground Perils

Physical activity during childhood can ward off obesity, reduce emotional problems, and boost youngsters’ performance at school. And, regular visits to the playground are one of the best ways to encourage childhood physical activity. But, there may also be hidden dangers lurking at your local play area.

Each year, roughly 211,000 preschool and elementary youths receive emergency room care for injuries that occurred on playground equipment. Of these injuries, 36% are classified as “severe” (Injury Prevention 1997; 3:1003). And, 17 children, mostly boys, die each year from playground-related accidents (Parks & Recreation 199l; 33:88-95).

Why Are Doctors of Chiropractic Concerned About Playground Safety?
Doctors of chiropractic, like Dr. Edelson, frequently care for youngsters who have developed spinal ailments as a result of falls. And, because falls are among the most common playground mishaps, playground safety is of foremost concern to doctors of chiropractic.

Specifically, falls, including those that do not provoke immediate symptoms tend to disrupt the spine’s natural alignment. This disruption results in a condition called vertebral subluxations, areas in the spine where movement is restricted or bones (vertebrae) are misaligned.

Vertebral subluxations are associated with a myriad of childhood ailments, such as ear infections, attention problems, asthma, postural disorders, and headache. Dr. Edelson corrects vertebral subluxations with specialized maneuvers called chiropractic adjustments. When caring for pediatric patients, chiropractors use extremely gentle, modified adjustments.

Dr. Edelson is committed to teaching families to prevent playground-related accidents. Read on to learn how to identify the most common playground pitfalls, and how to guard your children against potential injury.

Be There
The National Program for Playground Safety estimates that 40% of playground injuries result from lack of adult supervision. Prevent accidents by never allowing children to visit the playground without an adult. To facilitate playground supervision, consider teaming up with a fellow parent to share time watching your little ones.

And, before heading out to the park, establish a set of safety rules with your children, and review them on a regular basis.

Advocate Age-Appropriate Areas
A recent report revealed that the most prevalent hazard in playgrounds is the lack of designated age-appropriate areas. According to investigators, play areas should be sized in two classifications: ages two to five, and ages five to 12. However, although 59% of playground equipment is age- segregated, only 35% of parks designate age-specific areas. So, seek out parks with clearly marked age classifications. If your local playground lacks these designations, take action. Contact your town’s parks and recreation department and petition for appropriately designated areas.

Sand Is Safer
A full 70% of all playground injuries involve falls to the surface (Parks & Recreation 1998; 33:88-95). That’s why it’s essential to consider ground cover when choosing a play area for your little ones or constructing your own backyard playground.

What’s the safest surface for jungle gyms? According to a just-published report, sand is one of the safest ground covers available, and it’s also one of the most economical. The study tracked 930 children in Montreal who were cared for in emergency rooms after falling from playground equipment. The analysis revealed that youngsters who fell onto grass had a nearly 70% increased risk of injury, compared with children who fell onto sand (Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 2000; 54:475-7).
What to Look for in a Playground
Before rounding up the kids for an afternoon at the local park, do some investigating. Swing by the playground and look for the following hazards outlined by professionals at the National Program for Playground. Safety and other experts:

* Wobbly or unsteady surfaces

* Spaces between three and one-half inches and nine inches in which a child’s head may be entrapped (i.e., between vertical guardrails or fencing)

* Worn wooden surfaces, which may spawn splinters

* Rusted equipment

* Old paint, which may contain lead

* Inappropriately sized guardrails or barriers that may allow youngsters to slip under or over (For platforms for preschoolers, guardrails and barriers should be at least 29 inches high; for school-aged children, guardrails and barriers should be at least 38 inches high.)

* Sharp corners at a child’s head level

* Hard ground cover such as cement, gravel, or packed earth

* Exposed nails, open “5” hooks or protruding bolts

* Worn swing seats or swing hangers

* Inadequate ‘fall zones’ surrounding swings and slides (In general, each individual swing should have a fall zone of 20 feet in diameter. In addition, a clear space of at least six feet should surround swing sets and slides on all sides.)

* Hard swing seats or animal-shaped swing seats (These types of swings are associated with an additional risk of injury.)

If you find any potential dangers at a public facility, notify your city’s parks and recreation department immediately. It’s also important to check out any play equipment in your backyard and neighbors’ yards where your children spend time.

Besides sand, other acceptable surfaces include mulch, pea gravel, rubber tiles, mats, and padded floors. In general, surfaces should be at least 12 inches in depth.

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