INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - The playground is synonymous with summer. What better way for kids to let loose and horse around than on monkey bars, swings and slides.
Beware though, startling new stats point to the playground as the culprit for countless new cases of concussions.
“I was looking at the top of the slide and then someone came up behind me and pushed me down the slide,” said 11-year-old Jonathan Kraft.
It was early June and school was out for the summer when Jonathan’s fun was brought to an abrupt end.
“Immediately ran over there and started asking him questions, does it hurt anywhere? How do you feel? Did you see lights?” said Jonathan’s mom, Krystal Brown.
Brown watched it all, her son, tumbling head first down a slide, hitting his head along the way. Jonathan told his mom that he felt fine, but after his fall he was ready to call it a day and head home.
“Alarms definitely went off because he never stops mid-play and needs to go inside the house and rest,” said Brown.
“About an hour after we got in the house, he became extremely tired. The pain became excruciating to the point he couldn’t bear it, so then I knew immediately, we had to get to the ER,” she said.
“He was diagnosed with a probable concussion and then was sent to me as a specialist taking care of this age group with concussions,” said Dr. Dan Kraft a Pediatric Sports Medicine Physician with Community Health.
Kraft is Jonathan’s doctor. He has seen countless kids, all coming to his office with concussions received on the playground.
“We always want to protect our kids and unfortunately, play at playgrounds is unpredictable,” he said.
According to the CDC, playground play has gotten more dangerous over time. A recent study looked at ER visits for children under age 14, from injuries received on the playground.
In 2005 just 23 out of every 100,000 kids taken to the ER had a concussion from playing on a playground. Fast forward to 2013 and that rate more than doubled, with 48 of every 100,000 kids receiving a concussion while on the playground.
The CDC estimates every year around 30,000 kids get concussions while playing on the playground.
While the playground surface plays a part (mulch versus concrete), it’s the equipment itself that poses the biggest threat. The culprits according to the CDC study are American staples, the swings and monkey bars.
According to the study, boys received more head injuries than girls and kids ages 5 through 9 were the most commonly seen by ER doctors.
“The public is definitely more aware of concussions now so I think parents are perceptive of what’s going on with their kids and bringing them in to be seen more often now than they were before,” said Kraft.
A part of the concussion increase doctors say, is the increased awareness of concussions on behalf of parents. In the past, a head injury may have been ignored, whereas today it’s immediately treated.
“I’m very thankful that I was there because without adult supervision, he may have fell and never told me about the fall, he may have just complained about a headache and I may have thought it was a regular slight headache that some kids get,” said Brown.
If not noticed and healed, concussions can lead to long lasting brain damage. The public has been made more aware of the long term impacts, from veteran NFL players sharing stories from years after retirement, many suffering memory loss, depression and dementia.
“If you see those symptoms and you believe that a head injury has occurred, then you need to get them seen by a physician,” said Kraft.
Symptoms of a concussion are easy to identify:
- Headaches following a hit to the head
- Feeling more tired than normal
- Mood swings
- Memory issues
Treatment is simple. Kraft says keeping your kid off the playground and away from an environment that may expose them to another head injury long enough to make sure their head is fully healed, is the best solution. Something the Krafts were willing to wait for.
“Alarms immediately go off as soon as he says he wants to go to the park, I’m immediately going with him or I would rather him not go,” said Brown.
“I’m ready to get back on the playground,” said Jonathan.
Of all the kids sent to the ER with head injuries from the playground, an overwhelming majority, 95% were sent home after ER treatment.
The key experts say is to watch your kids carefully. Make sure they know to be careful and safe on the playground and don’t hesitate to see a doctor if they take a fall and hit their head.