Exercise Bicycles Pose Threat to Tiny Fingers.

From the WebMD Archives

Jan. 30, 2000 (New York) -- Enhanced public education efforts and improved product design are needed to prevent children from injuring their hands on home exercise bicycles, according to a report in the January issue of the Journal of Pediatric Orthopaedics.

Investigators led by Leon S. Benson, MD, an assistant professor of clinical orthopaedic surgery at Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago, report on 19 children who suffered hand injuries to their index or middle fingers from touching bicycle wheel spokes or the chain/sprocket drive apparatus. The injuries occurred over a three-year period, and the children's average age was 28 months.

Injuries caused by the chain sprocket were more likely to result in finger amputation, while wheel spokes generally caused cuts and repairable nerve damage.

More than 25,000 emergency room visits per year are related to or caused by home exercise equipment, and more than one-third of these are caused by stationary exercise bicycles, according to information cited in the study.

"With more than three million exercise bicycles sold annually in the United States, and further sales being stimulated by an increasing national interest in physical fitness, these injuries are becoming a modern public health concern," Benson and colleagues write. They recommend that all moving parts on the bicycle be enclosed and that parents be alerted to the potential hazards of these bicycles to help reduce the number of these injuries.

For example, doctors could place explanatory brochures in their offices that inform parents about the hazards of home exercise bicycles.

In one case reported in the new study, a 5-year-old boy began playing with the pedals of an exercise bicycle while kneeling next to it. Using one hand to spin the pedals, the fingers on his other hand got caught in the spokes of the spinning wheels, damaging the nerves and tendons in the fingers. He regained normal function within six months, following surgery. His mother was in a nearby room when the accident occurred.

In the study, information on adult supervision was available for 15 cases. Of these, adults were present in nine cases.

"You cannot assume that if you are supervising a child while the bicycle is being used that they are safe," Benson tells WebMD. "We believe that the presence of an adult in many of our cases underscores how difficult it may be to stop the behavior pattern immediately preceding injury. The spinning spoke and gear mechanisms seem to irresistibly invite exploration by small fingers, and consequently, adult supervision is not reliable in preventing contact between an operating exercycle and a child's hand," the authors write.

The researchers also found that exercycles were most often located in basement play areas. "If you have exercise equipment -- like an exercycle -- you probably should not have it in the same area where the children play. Machines should be in a protected area of the house," Benson says. "You wouldn't leave power tools lying around, would you?"

"Exercise bicycles seem innocuous enough and seem to be an object of health, but they represent a hazard to kids," Dale Blasier, MD, professor of orthopaedic surgery at Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock, tells WebMD.

Ken Giles, a spokesperson for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), agrees, calling this issue "an important child safety concern."

"The CPSC has been actively trying to encourage manufacturers to improve product design by making sure that all moving parts are covered," Giles tells WebMD. "The bottom line is that parents must try to keep children away from exercise bicycles and other exercise equipment -- especially when it is in use."