More Children Are Suffering Traumatic Brain Injuries at the Playground, Study Says

Children between the ages of 5 and 9 had the highest injury rate.

ByABC News
May 2, 2016, 1:00 PM

— -- Playgrounds aren't always fun and games according to a new study. Researchers found that children are increasingly being diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries after a run-in with playground equipment.

Researchers from the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control looked at injury rates for kids under 14 from 2005 to 2013 and determined that there was a significant increase in children going to the emergency room for traumatic brain injuries. Boys accounted for 58.6 percent of the TBIs identified while 50.6 percent of children with TBIs were between the ages of five and nine, according to a study published today in the Pediatrics Medical Journal.

Most playground-related TBIs were associated with monkey bars and swings, according to researchers.

The authors theorize that the rise in injuries can be attributable to two reasons: increased playground time for kids and increased awareness among parents and doctors about the dangers of head injuries.

"It is also plausible that heightened public awareness of TBI and concussions has prompted parents to seek medical care for their children in the event of a head injury, when previously they would not have done so," the authors wrote.

The authors stress that most children do not have long-lasting injuries, with the overwhelming majority of these pediatric patients, 95.6 percent, were treated and released from the hospital without further care.

The authors did, however, suggest steps that could help lower TBI rates.

"Improvements in playground environmental safety that also address design, surfacing, and maintenance can help accomplish this," the study authors said.

Dr. Oscar Guillamondegui, director of the Vanderbilt Multidisciplinary Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said the study wasn't particularly surprising but it could be useful for health officials.

"It brings up some really important points ... kids are still getting hurt," said Guillamondegui. "We have no baseline to determine what the rate of dramatic brain injury is ... [this] gives us a number to focus on."

Guillamondegui said the increased rate of traumatic brain injury may just be the start of understanding the long-term impacts of these injuries, which can put people at increased risk for anxiety, depression and various cognitive disorders years later.

"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," he said.

Dr. Jerri Rose, a pediatric emergency room physician at University Hospitals Case Medical Center, said concerned caregivers should take children to the emergency room if they had a head injury. The warning signs of a serious head injury include persistent vomiting, lethargy, change of behavior or loss of consciousness.

"Many of those children turn out to be ultimately fine, it would be best to consult with physician," said Rose.

"I think it’s an important study that the numbers are increasing, I’d still applaud kids for being healthy and active," she added. Children should play "on safe equipment" as "they’re being supervised."