Avoidable Injuries Continue in Winter Sports

From the WebMD Archives

March 6, 2000 (Atlanta) -- High-speed snowmobile and ice hockey collisions often result in injury to the head, neck, and spine, according to two reports in the March issue of Pediatrics. Doctors call for education, legislation, and sportsmanship to help reduce injuries and deaths among children.

Snowmobiling is a very popular winter sport in the U.S. and around the world. Many consider it a family sport, so there is much concern that both parents and children be educated about injury prevention in snowmobiling.

In 1988, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published the following statement on snowmobiling: "Snowmobiles are inappropriate for use by children and young adolescents and should not be used by children younger than 16 years old." The AAP also recommended that riders over age 16 be licensed and that helmets be worn at all times.

Despite those recommendations more than a decade ago, snowmobile injuries continue. Because pediatric snowmobile trauma has not been studied in the United States, researchers reviewed almost 300 cases reported to the Consumer Product Safety Commission between 1990 and 1998. Snowmobile laws were reviewed in states that reported one or more deaths.

The data showed that 75% of all snowmobile incidents involved boys. Head and neck injuries, from collisions with stationary objects, were the most common cause of death. Non-fatal injuries, from vehicle ejection, included bruises, scrapes, cuts, broken bones, and sprains.

Legislative analysis revealed that age restrictions typically don't apply to snowmobile use on private property, where over 40% of all pediatric accidents occurred. Additionally, most states don't require protective helmets. The authors feel that new laws are necessary and appropriate.

"Legislators should consider enacting helmet laws, age restrictions, and speed limits like those for other motor vehicles," says lead author Manda Rice, research coordinator at Toledo Children's Hospital in Ohio. "Also, the maintenance of snowmobile trails should be funded with licensing and registration fees.

"But so far, the states haven't adopted [such restrictions]. And that's why we're encouraging doctors to advocate at the state and local levels," Rice tells WebMD.

"It's frustrating to see teen-agers with serious, long-term injuries from recreational snowmobile use," says Michael Bannon, MD, director of the Mayo Clinic's surgical/trauma intensive care unit and assistant professor of surgery at the Mayo School of Medicine in Rochester, Minn. "And snowmobile collisions can be just as devastating as high-speed automobile collisions."


Bannon tells WebMD that the long-term consequences of head injury range from learning and memory impairments to prolonged coma. "These [head injuries] are the kinds of injuries that can change the entire course of family life," says Bannon. "And the same is true with injuries to the spine."

Snowmobiling isn't the only dangerous winter sport. An increase in spine injuries led the AAP to make similar recommendations for youth ice hockey. Size and strength vary between players in all competition levels, but the differences are most pronounced at 14-15.

For this reason, the academy recommends prohibiting intentional body contact -- called body checks -- in players under age 15, adopting good sportsmanship programs, and implementing education about the danger of checking from behind.

Vital Information:

  • High-speed snowmobile and ice hockey collisions involving children often result in injuries to the head, neck, and spine, according to recent research.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics believes that there should be helmet laws, speed limits, and age restrictions for snowmobiles, but most states have no such legislation.
  • For youth ice hockey, the AAP recommends the prohibition of body checks in players under age 15, the adoption of good sportsmanship programs, and education on the dangers of checking from behind.
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