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Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

EMS: Courage And Compassion In Action

By Shawn Godfrey
05:30AM / Monday, June 18, 2007

Shawn Godfrey is a certified paramedic and the operations manager for the Village Ambulance Service Inc., Williamstown, MA.
Skateboard Mania: Safety On Deck

As I drive down the street each day, I notice the skateboard has become a standard accessory for most young adults, including boys and girls.

The one-time fad has evolved into its own culture of sport, music, and lifestyle for most of these kids. Since its resurgence from a predominantly West Coast underground activity in the 1970s, youth from all across the country seem drawn to this activity over the more mainstream sports, like baseball and football. I know this first-hand, because my ten year-old son, Jared, is one of the many preferring to hang out with his friends, weaving in and out of obstacles made from articles found in my tool shed, rather than breaking-in the new baseball mitt.

Seldom will you see Jared without his skateboard or, more commonly, his fair share of bumps and bruises from obsessively trying to master an “Ollie”, 180, or the granddaddy of them all, the 720 Kick-Flip. It is rather impressive to watch the speed, balance, and coordination Jared exerts to pull off one of these tricks, but with these skills come potential risk factors.

On many occasions I have fooled myself into believing I could easily master the “deck” (cool vernacular for “skateboard”), but most tricks require an ability for one to actually stand on the skateboard for a duration greater than 3 seconds. If my back-side could talk, it would insist I stay off of anything that requires a single iota of dexterity or equilibrium. Ouch!

The growing popularity of skateboarding can be associated with youthful energy and adventurous spirit, however, if improperly or irresponsibly practiced, it can result in injuries that range from minor cuts and bruises to catastrophic brain injury.

To improve skateboarding safety, an increasing number of communities, like many in Berkshire County, provide skateboard parks or designated skateboarding areas. These may have professionally designed "bowls" and "ramps" or other designated skateboarding areas that are located away from motor vehicle and pedestrian traffic.

In the emergency medical service (EMS) setting, the frequency of skateboarding injuries has increased dramatically. Most injuries involve the wrist when a rider loses his or her balance, falls off the skateboard, and subsequently lands on an outstretched arm. Some cases are more severe, involving serious head and/or neck trauma.

Each year in the U.S., skateboarding injuries cause about 50,000 visits to emergency departments and 1500 children and adolescents require hospitalization.

Potential Skateboarding Injuries

Possible injuries to the arms, legs, neck and trunk include bruises and abrasions, sprains and strains and fractures and dislocations. Since wrist fractures are quite common, wearing specially designed wrist guards can reduce their frequency and severity.

Facial injuries may include breaking the nose and jawbone. Most helmets are “open-faced” (any other is considered “less trendy”) and do not provide the necessary protection for the face.

Severe injuries can include concussion, closed head injury, and blunt head trauma.

Permanent impairment or even death may occur if a rider neglects to wear a helmet then falls off the skateboard and strikes his or her head.

Risk Factors/Prevention

Skateboarding is not recommended for young children. But the sports' growing popularity has prompted the launch of skateboarding-related video games, soft drinks, the X-Games, and every other marketing ploy, with a result being the involvement of younger and younger children. Unfortunately, most young children do not possess the physical skills and thinking ability a person needs to safely control and maneuver a skateboard.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), children under the age of 5 years old should not ride a skateboard, and children aged 6 to 10 years old require close supervision from an adult or trustworthy adolescent whenever riding a skateboard.

Skateboarding presents a higher risk for young children because they have a higher center of gravity, less physical and mental development, and poor balance. These factors make children more likely to fall and injure their heads.

Younger children also have slower reaction times and less coordination than adults, which makes it less likely for them to break their falls.

More importantly, younger children very often overestimate their skills and abilities. Children will often attempt tricks or stunts well beyond their level of experience and disregard important safety factors completely.

Sixty percent of skateboard injuries involve children under age 15; most of those injured are boys.

Those at highest risk are:

Inexperienced skateboarders: Those who have been skateboarding for less than one week suffer one-third of all injuries, usually caused by falls.

Skateboarders who fail to wear protective equipment. Every skateboarder should wear standard safety gear. This includes a helmet, wrist guards, elbow and knee pads, and appropriate shoes. Skateboarders who perform tricks should use heavy duty gear.

Skateboarders who go near traffic -including within parking lots - or use homemade skateboard ramps: both practices are particularly dangerous.

Experienced skateboarders who encounter unexpected surfaces: Irregular riding surfaces, rocks or other debris can cause a skateboarder to fall, stumble over twigs, or fall down slopes. Wet pavement and rough or uneven surfaces can also lead to falling.

Skateboarding Injury Prevention

You can prevent most skateboarding injuries if you follow all of these recommendations:

Use a quality skateboard. Skateboards have three parts: the deck (the board itself), the trucks (the mechanism to which wheels are attached) and the wheels.

Shorter length decks are best for beginners because they are easier to balance and handle. Skateboards have various characteristics for all types of riding including slalom, freestyle and speed. Some are rated for the user's weight.

Keep skateboards in proper working order. Be sure to inspect the skateboard before every ride. Look for problems that may require immediate attention or repair. These can include loose, broken or cracked parts; sharp edges on metal boards; a slippery top surface, and wheels with chips and cracks. Utilize a professional to repair serious defects.

Learn the basic skills of skateboarding, especially how to stop properly. Also learn slowing and turning techniques, and how to fall safely. For example, if you suddenly lose your balance, you should crouch down on the skateboard as a way to decrease falling distance.

Wear proper protective equipment. Before getting on a skateboard, you should empty your pockets of all hard and sharp objects then apply the appropriate protective gear.

Protective equipment includes:

Helmet: To protect your head from injury, always wear a properly fitting helmet. This is true no matter what your age, level of expertise or skateboarding location. Purchase a quality bicycle or multi-sport helmet. Helmets should meet or exceed safety standards of the U.S Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) or Snell Memorial Foundation. You may need to try on several sizes and models to find a helmet that fits your head correctly and securely.

A properly fitting helmet:

Is worn flat on your head with the bottom edge parallel to the ground.

Sits low on your forehead.

Has side straps that form a "V" shape around each ear.

Has a buckle that fastens tightly; there should be room to put only two fingers between the strap and your chin).

Has pads inside that you install or remove so the helmet fits snugly.

Does not move in any direction when you shake your head.

Does not interfere with your movement, vision or hearing.

Be sure to replace your helmet when it is damaged, outgrown or at least every five years. You may need to replace it sooner if the manufacturer recommends it.

Wrist guards help support the wrist and reduce the chances of breaking a bone if you fall. Knee and elbow pads reduce the severity of cuts and scrapes, and prevent gravel burns. You should also wear closed, slip-resistant shoes, and consider goggles to keep debris out of your eyes.

Skateboard only on smooth dry pavement and away from traffic, preferably in a supervised skate park.

Never hold onto the side or rear of a moving vehicle while riding a skateboard (aka "skitching").

You could fall or be thrown into oncoming traffic if the vehicle suddenly slows, stops, or turns.

Never use your skateboard in wet weather conditions.

Avoid skateboarding in crowded walkways or in darkness.

Always screen the area before you skateboard, inspecting surfaces for rocks and other debris.

Be careful with tricks and jumps. Skateboarding skill is not acquired quickly or easily. Do not take chances by skateboarding faster than your experience allows, or faster than is safe for conditions or the speed of other skateboarders. If you attempt tricks and jumps, practice them only in a controlled environment, such as a skate park that has adult supervision and appropriate access to emergency medical care.

Prevent skateboarding injuries by keeping in top physical condition. Stretch and perform conditioning exercises before and after skateboarding.

Do not use headphones while skateboarding. This may impede important environmental noises or verbal warnings from other skaters, or lead to unwanted riding obstacles in the event the device were to fall.

Never put more than one person on a skateboard. Most skateboards are designed for one rider. Riding tandem may decrease balance and maneuverability, resulting in falls or serious injury.

Be considerate of fellow skateboarders, especially those who are younger and/or less skilled.

Know what to do in an emergency. Skateboarding accidents happen, so you should always know what to do in emergency situations. Do not panic. Call 911 for an ambulance or medical assistance.


American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
Your Comments
Post Comment
I bet you fall on your rear every time! Just teasing. I printed this out in order to give it to my son. I hope he will take it a bit easier on his skateboard.
from: Joeon: 06-21 00:00:00-2007

You choose interesting topics to expound upon, Shawn! The next time you feel the urge to have a little youthful fun, try bicycling! Take care of that derriere and step away from your son's skateboard!
from: auroraon: 06-21 00:00:00-2007

There are several things that I could say but I will keep them to myself and be "PC".

As always Shawn a very good article. It was very informative and it will be a good thing to print off and give it to the fellow co-workers.
Pretty much every city has a skate park of some kind in it now.
from: Midnight Medicineon: 06-21 00:00:00-2007

as you know i can relate!!! good information
from: bernieon: 06-18 00:00:00-2007

I wouldn't consider attempting some of the tricks these kids do today! I guess as long as they wear protective gear and are smart, let them have fun!
from: Stephanon: 06-18 00:00:00-2007

Great information as always... I'm just curious when your self made "training" video will be posted. (sorry couldn't resist!)
from: Taraon: 06-18 00:00:00-2007

Interesting article, Shawn!! I see kids on boards all over the city these days. Often times they are in the middle of the road, in traffic! And I can say that I have never seen any protective gear on them. It can be a little nerve-wracking to come upon a child kicking their way down the middle of the street without any concern for the traffic that actually belongs in the road! And when you can actually pass them safely, it becomes a concern that they will grab a hold of your bumper to hitch a 30 mph ride at your expense!! (NO FREE RIDES!!) I think it is an awesome activity for kids when kept in the proper setting... i.e. anywhere away from moving vehicles!! ;)
from: Mrs. Godfreyon: 06-18 00:00:00-2007

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