With many of the earlier forms of equipment now removed from public and private playgrounds, these do seem safer than ever, but there is always the unexpected. In this case: a hazard from parents trying to assist toddlers down the sliding board in a way that seems to minimize the risk of injury, but did the opposite. A rather surprising and reasonably common injury was identified by Dr. John Gaffney of Winthrop University Hospital in the Journal of Pediatric Orthopedics and now making the rounds in the New York Times, MSNBC, and numerous other print and internet sources. A few years back, Dr. Gaffney began observing multiple instances of broken tibias (“shinbones”) in toddlers playing on sliding boards–about 15% of the total of tibial breaks he had treated in an 11 month period. The curious aspect was that in every case, the injury was sustained while the child was was descending the sliding board, secure in the lap of an adult–seemingly a means to a safe ride. The apparent cause is that when a rubber-soled shoe becomes caught against the slide or the sidewalls, the force of descent with the full weight of adult plus child causes enough twisting force to break the bone. Had the child been sliding alone, he would have managed to stop or twist free his foot by himself, and avoid such injury.
In most cases, the children begin crying at the conclusion of the slide and refuse to bear weight on the leg. A trip to the physician or emergency facility leads to an X-ray, and, there it is: a very painful spiral fracture of a pretty big bone. Treatment is usually with casting for about four to six weeks, and in some instances surgery might even be necessary. Besides Dr. Gaffney, many other orthopedists around the country are trying to get the word out about avoiding this entirely preventable injury: kids are better off sliding alone, on an appropriate height slide, or from mid-height, perhaps with an adult standing at the side to assure safety. But this is one of those instances in which “common sense” just doesn’t seem to be good enough, and what seems safest isn’t. Pediatric orthopedist Dr. Edward Holt of Annapolis has come up with this informative video on the subject: http://www.ivillage.com/parents-put-toddlers-risk-playground-slide/6-a-448057.
But no one is suggesting getting rid of sliding boards. Just avoid sliding down the board with your child in your lap!