Even if one hasn't had firsthand experience zipping across sidewalks on a pair of shoes with wheels in the heels, most everyone is familiar with "heeling," as the activity is called.
Now, doctors are worried that the footwear may put young users at increased risk of sprains and fractures, and a new study may further justify their fears.
According to a study released today in the current issue of the journal Pediatrics, 67 children were treated for injuries from footwear known as Heelys and similar products at Temple Street Children's University Hospital in Dublin, Ireland, over a 10-week period last summer.
"The results are pretty amazing," says study author Dr. Mihai Vioreanu, adding that the unnatural balance needed to successfully pilot the shoes likely contributes to injuries.
"This balanced position with a tendency of the body to fall backwards explains the risk of falling," he says.
The study isn't the first red flag that has been raised over the footwear. According to The Associated Press, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reported last week that one death and at least 64 roller-shoe injuries could be blamed on the trendy footwear.
And the injuries aren't just in Ireland. In recent years, doctors in Korea, Singapore, the United States and other countries have raised concerns about the shoes and the injuries they may be causing.
All of this comes at a time when the products have already sparked an international craze. Heelys Inc., the company that manufactures the Heelys brand footwear, says it has shipped more than 10 million pairs of the wheeled footwear since its introduction in 2000.
The company maintains that its products are safe. Last April, Heelys Inc. announced that a study using Consumer Product Safety Commission data on product-related injuries from January 2001 through September 2006 confirmed that the use of the footwear was significantly safer than bicycling, skateboarding, basketball, soccer and even tennis.
"When Heelys are used in accordance with safety instructions we provide in our packaging and on our Web site [with the proper safety equipment], wheeled sports provide safe opportunities for children to exercise." said Heelys Inc. CEO Mike Staffaroni in a press release.
Perhaps central to the shoes' injurious potential is the fact that most parents and their children believe protective gear is unnecessary, says pediatrician Michael Wasserman of the Ochsner Health System in New Orleans.
"I believe it more likely that the inherent design of being able to rapidly shift from [walking] to enhanced skating will virtually eliminate the usage of any protective gear," he says. "It's a great consumer design for fun, but scary from an accident prevention perspective."
"One could almost think that Heelys would be similar to having a child flap his arms pretending to fly suddenly being able to leap into the sky. Pretending is great; the actuality is frightening and dangerous," he added.
To limit injury, study authors say children should use full protective gear, including a helmet, wrist guards, kneepads, and elbow pads, at all times when using roller shoes.
Still, doctors are split over whether the findings are a true cause for concern.
"There are certainly safety concerns," says Ari Brown, a pediatrician and author of the books "Baby 411" and "Toddler 411."