A new study in the October issue of the Journal of Trauma found skateboard injuries doubled between 1993 and 1998 as the sport underwent a radical change. It shifted from the 1980s style of skateboarding known as "vert," which uses 10-foot-high ramps, to "street skating," which encourages cruising through city streets. Even when supervised, street skating uses lower ramps and involves increasingly complex stunts and tricks.
Many of these injuries could have been prevented, researchers say, by using basic safety equipment -- helmets, wrist guards and elbow and knee pads.
The purpose of the study was to assess the risks of skateboarding compared to other youth sports such as basketball and football, says co-author Dr. Michael Nance, associate director of trauma at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. As part of their research, the authors looked at data from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS), which collects data on consumer product-related injuries. They also examined data from annual surveys from the National Sporting Goods Association, which reports on sports participation among people aged 7 and older.
What the scientists found was a significant decline in the rate of skateboard injuries from 1987 to 1993, followed by a significant increase in injuries over the next five years -- a trend they associate with the rising popularity of "street skating" during that period. This shift can be traced, in part, to the introduction in 1995 of the eXtreme Games, televised on ESPN each summer. Millions of kids now watch professional skaters, and many try to copy their more dangerous moves on curbs, stair railings and all sorts or construction equipment found in the streets.
This has caused a continued average annual increase of 16,500 skateboard injuries since 1998, according to NEISS statistics. Almost 30 percent of these involved children under 11. More than 53 percent of the victims were between 12 and 17. The most common types of injuries were wrist fractures, ankle strains and sprains, face lacerations, lower arm fractures, and wrist strains and sprains.
That said, the researchers conclude that, compared with other sports, skateboarding is relatively safe. For instance, the 1998 rate of skateboard injuries treated at emergency departments was only half as high as basketball injuries. And most skateboard-related injuries are relatively minor and can be treated on an outpatient basis, Nance says.
Currently, there are no standards for skateboarding equipment, except a voluntary standard for helmets set by the American Society for Testing and Materials. To reduce the chance of injury, Nance recommends skaters use a full range of equipment, including helmet, wrist guards, elbow and kneepads, and gloves.
"You tend to find that the kids who go to the parks wear the equipment," he said. "They're doing things in a safer setting, whereas the kids on the street tend to be tooling around. They tend to be a little more cavalier, or casual, about it and are more likely to be injured."
What To Do
Children's Healthcare of Atlanta has a number of good tips to increase safety among young skateboarders.
The National Safety Council also has some good advice for skateboarders.