Heelys Hazardous for Kids, Study Finds

Wasserman agrees. "This is not just 'kids being kids,'" he says, noting that he has seen children with sprains and fractures in their arms and elbows from the use of Heelys.

But many doctors question whether it is yet time to sound the alarms. Though mall shoppers and others may find heeling to be a nuisance — indeed, they have already been banned at many schools and shopping malls — some physicians report that the number of injuries they have seen because of the products is still slight.

"I do not see a cause for alarm at this time," says Dr. George Molzen, past president of the American College of Emergency Physicians. "This is kids being kids and is similar to scooters, climbing trees [and other activities]."

"I have seen orthopedic injuries in kids using these," says Dr. Mark Hauswald, professor of emergency medicine at the University of New Mexico. "Of course, I've seen lots more kids injured playing soccer or running to school. This paper does not tell us anything about the magnitude of the risk associated with these shoes."

Other doctors say that even though injuries may still be few and far between, the implications are worrying.

"I must admit I see the warning signs — 'No Heelys Allowed!' — on the doors of local stores, but have never seen an injury ascribed specifically to these products," said Dr. Richard O'Brien, spokesman for the American College of Emergency Physicians.

"That having been said, I read the study with real concern since supracondylar fractures [just above the elbow] and can be very difficult to manage, have complications [nerve damage]," he said.

And even kids who get injured may not be learning their lesson; study authors note that even though most parents urge their children to toss the footwear after injury, 54 percent of the injured children expressed their intention to continue using them after recovery from injury.

Clearer Warnings Needed

Additional warnings could be on the way for Heelys. According to the AP, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, based in Rosemont, Ill., this week is issuing new safety advice that recommends helmets, wrist protectors and knee and elbow pads for kids who wear wheeled shoes.

Dr. Charles Shubin, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland, says additional warnings will be a welcome change.

"As these function very similarly to roller skates, similar warnings and precautions and warnings should apply," he says.

"There should be recommended safety precautions that come in the shoe packaging," Brown says. "Yes, kids will be kids, but that means we should be even more aware of these potential hazards and try to minimize injuries."

However, if the past is any lesson, it is unlikely that the study or the warnings that arise from it will have much of an effect on heeling among kids. After all, even study author Vioreanu says the footwear has its virtues when used safely.

"In my personal opinion, Heelys are great fun," he says.

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