Walking Into Trouble

Kids and treadmills are a dangerous mix

THURSDAY, Nov. 15, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- Parents need to exercise caution as well as their muscles with home treadmills.

Every year, more than 25,000 children are injured on home exercise equipment, reports the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. And a close look at a dozen kids seriously injured by home treadmills shows all occurred when the machines were running, and most occurred when adults were using the machines.

"Treadmills are potentially dangerous. Most parents weren't even aware that [serious injuries] could happen," says Dr. Benjamin Chang, a pediatric plastic surgeon at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and one of the study's authors.

The youngsters in the study were ages 14 months to 7 years, with an average age of 2.4 years. Most children were hurt when their hands got caught in the back of the machine where the tread wraps around a roller. The machine caused deep scrapes, some equivalent to a serious burn. Many children needed plastic surgery because scarring from the abrasions had limited use of their fingers.

Results of the study appear in a recent issue of the Annals of Plastic Surgery.

Dr. Bella Silecchia, director of Pediatric Emergency and Ambulatory Services at Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow, N.Y., says treadmills can break bones if a hand or foot gets caught in the gears of the machine. She also is concerned about the potential for strangulation if a child wears a sweatshirt with a drawstring near a treadmill. The folding models also pose a risk for head injuries if the child pulls it down improperly, she says.

Manufacturers could make treadmills safer, the study concludes. If the machine were more difficult to start and easier to stop, fewer children likely would be injured. The rollers should stop automatically if a hand or foot gets caught. Also, the study says the devices should have covers over the most dangerous part, where the tread meets the roller in the back of the machine. Silecchia says warning labels should be included on all exercise equipment to make parents aware of the potential danger.

However, no design change can substitute for careful supervision around home exercise equipment. A 2-year old in the study was able to find the key to his parents' treadmill and then turn it on by himself, says Chang. Parents need to stay vigilant with older kids, as well. "Even kids you think would know better can get hurt on treadmills," says Chang.

Ideally, Chang recommends keeping your treadmill in a locked room used just for exercise. Don't buy a machine that's easy for kids to turn on. Unplug the machine when you're not using it, and make sure if it has a key to start it and that the key is well hidden, advises Silecchia.

Make sure your children are nowhere near the treadmill while you're exercising. If you must exercise while your children are nearby, Chang says use corrals, much like an adult playpen, that surround the machine and keep young kids away. Or keep your youngster in a playpen while you work out.

Silecchia says parents need to remember that children don't use the machine like they do. "They're investigating every angle of the machine," as they climb on it, push things around and lift things up, she says.

What To Do

The Phoenix Children's Hospital offers this advice on keeping kids safe around home exercise equipment.

Here are some tips for buying a safe machine.

SOURCES: Interviews with Benjamin Chang, M.D., pediatric plastic surgeon, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Pa.; Bella Silecchia, director, Pediatric Emergency and Ambulatory Services, Nassau University Medical Center, East Meadow, N.Y.; August 2001 Annals of Plastic Surgery
Consumer News