THE BLOG
12/05/2014 05:16 pm ET Updated Feb 04, 2015

Snow Sledding Tips to Avoid Landing in the E.R.

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If you live in an area that gets snow during the winter, sledding is probably a part of your family's winter activities. Sledding can be great fun, but it can also lead to serious injuries. Research shows over 20,000 emergency room visits per year were a direct result of sledding injuries in patients 19 and younger.

Most sledding injuries in kids are preventable, if proper precautions are taken. If you don't put safety first when sledding, this wildly entertaining activity can lead to serious injuries. Head and neck injuries are a particular concern while sledding. Severe cases can lead to paralysis, disability, or even death.

Don't let injuries get in the way of your children's winter fun. These tips will help both you and your children sled safely and stay out of the E.R. over the holidays.

Helmets

I can already hear the complaining as I write this. "Dad, Do I really need to wear that dorky helmet?"

YES!

Children should always wear a helmet when sledding -- no exceptions! Sleds can reach high speeds, and a blow to the head at those speeds could result in a concussion or more serious head injury. A well-fitted helmet can greatly reduce the likelihood of concussions and other traumatic brain injuries if an accident does happen.

Sled Gear

My new 55" flat screen TV came with a sturdy box. It would be perfect for the kids to sled on. Not so fast, my spendthrift friend...

Don't use any makeshift substitutes for a sled, such as cardboard boxes, plastic sheets, and lunch trays. These items are not designed for sledding and are dangerous if used for that purpose. In addition to being difficult to steer, softer and thinner items like plastic sheets and cardboard boxes can easily be pierced by objects on the ground. Opt for a sled with runners and a steering mechanism, rather than a toboggan, snow disc, or inflatable snow tube. A sled with a steering mechanism is easier to control should there be an unexpected obstacle. While snow tubes, discs, and toboggans are designed for sliding down a snowy hill, they can be nearly impossible to steer. Snow tubes can also propel children into the air if they hit a bump.

The Right Terrain

May sound obvious, but choose a hill that is specifically designated or designed for sledding. Avoid sledding down public streets or hills with a road at the bottom. The roads will be slippery, and it will be difficult for cars to stop in time. The hill should be clear of bumps, rocks, trees, poles, and other obstacles. These hazardous objects increase the likelihood of collision and injury. Avoid sledding on a hill with hard-packed snow or ice. If you fall off the sled, the ice will make for a harder landing and increase your likelihood of injury. If you see an obstacle approaching and cannot stop the sled or get out of the way fast enough, roll off the sled away from the obstacle.

It's More Fun Head First. It's Less Fun In the E.R.

You should never sled head first, or you will put yourself at a greater risk for a head injury. Instead, sit on the sled facing forward. Never sled while lying on your stomach, facing backward, or standing. The forward-facing position gives you the best control over the sled. Small children should sled with an adult. Other than that exception, sledders should go down the hill one at a time with only one person per sled to avoid collisions.

Sledding is a fun winter tradition, as long as you put your child's safety first. Follow these tips so you can worry less about injuries and have a good time over the holidays.

Healthy & Happy Holiday Wishes!
Michael Gleiber MD

Questions? Let me hear from you!

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