Playgrounds may not be completely safe for children as more are admitted to emergency departments (EDs) for non-fatal traumatic brain injuries (TBIs).

Play is an essential activity for growing children, and playgrounds provide the perfect place to increase learning, social skills, exploration, imagination, and attentiveness.

However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has raised the alarm on the increasing link between playing in playgrounds and TBIs among children even if safety standards have already been improved.

The data from an injury-tracking program obtained by the CDC from January 1, 2001 to December 31, 2013 shows that 214,883 people - 14 years old and below - were brought to EDs for playground-related injuries. However, almost 94 percent of these injuries are non-fatal.

About 50 percent of children with TBIs were between 5 and 9 years old, with boys more likely to suffer from the injury than girls at 58.6 percent. Although 95.6 percent of these patients were eventually released, 2.6 percent needed further medical treatment.

TBI children were also more likely to get injured playing in playground gyms and monkey bars, as well as swings, at 28.3 percent and 28.1 percent, respectively.

The study further suggests that these injuries occurred more often in the months of April, May and September, probably because the weather is more ideal for outdoor recreation.

About 77 percent of ED visits, meanwhile, happened Monday to Friday, which tends to corroborate with increased occurrence of injuries in schools and places of recreation or sports.

Overall, "the CDC report estimated that from 2001 to 2009, the rate of all sports and recreation-related TBI ED visits increased 57% and that playground activities accounted for the highest estimated number of ED visits among the activities examined," said the study.

The researchers want to stress that the upward trend may be attributed to increased number of children participating in playground activities and heightened awareness of both health care providers and parents.

However, "most people are still not attuned to the fact that something major could have occurred, they shake it off and don't go to ER . . . those are the unseen trauma," said Dr. Oscar Guillamondegui, director of the Vanderbilt Multidisciplinary Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic.

Thus, even if the child looks perfectly fine after the accident, it's still best to seek medical help.

The National Program for Playground Safety (NPPS) has also listed down guidelines to reduce the risks of children sustaining injuries in playgrounds. These include:

  •  Using acceptable surfaces that include wood fiber, sand, and rubber mats as opposed to concrete, packed dirt, or grass;
  •  Checking park equipment to make sure it's always in good working order and is safe to use;
  •  Supervising children while they're at play; and
  •  Learning about safety regulations.

The study is now available in Pediatrics.

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