Should You Buy Your Child a Trampoline?

Child jumping on trampolineIn the mid-1930s, George Nissen and Larry Griswold built the first recreation trampoline. The purpose was for Nissen to work on his tumbling skills. They took it to a local YMCA in Iowa. They quickly realized a use beyond training -- it was fun. Nissen and Griswold started the Griswold-Nissen Trampoline & Tumbling Company and began mass producing trampolines.

There is no question that trampolines can be a valuable fitness and recreational activity that brings hours of fun and enjoyment to those who participate. The problem is safety.

What are the Safety Risks on a Trampoline?

Small children learn to balance on a flat non-moving surface in an upright position. It becomes second nature. When you lose your balance because of a particular body position, you intuitively adjust to maintain balance. This instinctive reaction maintains balance on a fixed and stable surface. On a trampoline, these instincts do not serve you well when your feet are contacting the bed because it is not a solid, stable surface. The trampoline gives and rebounds contrary to what you have learned you whole life.

The safety risk increases as you move away from the center of the trampoline because the springs closest to you are more active to the bouncing activity, and the springs further away are contributing less to that activity. As you head closer to the edge, fewer springs contribute to the jumping. So that is yet another difference you have to adjust to as you move along the trampoline.

What makes matters even worse is horizontal velocity. If you lose balance, horizontal velocity moves you horizontally across the bed. This causes people to fall off the trampoline or run uncontrollably into the barrier wall.

Couple all of this with other children jumping on the trampoline and the lack of control we have when flying through the air, you can see why over 100,000 children go to the ER every year.

How Often are Children Injured on Trampolines?

This is the question most parents want to know. If I buy a trampoline or let my child play on one at a friend's house or a recreational gymnastics center, what are the chances that my child will get hurt on the trampoline?

The answer is a bit complicated. There are not good statistics on how many kids jump on trampolines and how often which is an important part of the question. The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that there were 103,512 ER visits from children from trampoline injuries in 2016.

Fractures are a very common trampoline injury. Ankle fractures are so common on trampolines orthopedic doctors call the most common type of fracture "trampoline ankle."

What are the Arguments in Favor of Trampoline Use?

The trampoline manufacturers tell you that relative to you, injuries on trampolines are decreasing. They argue that this because of a combination of improved protection on trampolines (heavier frame/suspension system padding and use of the enclosure) and better adherence to trampoline safety rules by users. The further tout the undeniable exercise benefits of trampoline use.

Trampoline proponents make a more global argument that child exercise is unsafe across the board. They argue that there are less injuries than in soccer, baseball, basketball, or football. Setting aside that children spend more time playing these sports than jumping on a trampoline, the point is well taken. There are few activities that are risk free for children and even fewer that have the health benefits that trampoline use provide.

Should I buy my Kids a Trampoline?

When you are unsure of which path to take in balancing safety and participation, there is wisdom in looking at what the American Academy of Pediatrics thinks. What do they say? The AAP unambiguously advises against trampoline use for all children.

But what if there are enclosures and padding to prevent injuries? The AAP says that those safety features may not prevent all injuries and may do more harm than good by providing a false sense of security.

It is also worth putting the AAP position in context. This is not an organization is intolerant of risk. The AAP has reviewed many recreational products and activities known to cause injuries, including in-line skating, horseback riding, scooters, skateboards and ice hockey. There is no recommendation that these arguably dangerous activities should be banned even for young children under a certain age. But this organization of doctors singles out fireworks, infant walkers, 3-wheeled ATV's and backyard trampolines are the only commercial products the AAP asks to be banned entirely. This is telling.

If You Do get That Trampoline Anyway

Parents are going to make their own choices. If you do get a trampoline, keep in mind these safety tips:

  • Adult supervision at all times. None of these other tips are as useful if you are not verifying that the children are using the trampoline safely.
  • No somersaults, flips or any other movements that might allow landing on the head or neck. This is an incredibly important tip. Most of the 100,000 plus emergency room visits resulted in injuries that are not permanent. Fear of head and spinal injuries are what matter in the long run.
  • Only one jumper at a time. This is another cause of head and neck injuries.
  • Make sure there is adequate protective padding on any trampoline you purchase. There is a lot of dispute on how important this is but it probably helps.
  • Use the trampoline ladder getting on and off the trampoline. Too many injuries occur before or after the fun.
  • Make sure the trampoline is level

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