The playground is a place where kids should have fun. But it’s important to take the right steps to make sure your child is safe, too.
Each year, playground injuries send hundreds of thousands of U.S. kids to the emergency department. Those injuries can range from minor to severe or even life-threatening. But with the right preparation and supervision, you can make sure your child has a good — and safe — time.
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Common Playground Injuries
According to a 2021 study in the Journal of Pediatrics and Child Health, playground injuries cause over 200,000 emergency department visits each year. The most common playground injuries include:
- Cuts and scrapes.
- Strains and sprains.
- Broken bones.
- Internal injuries.
- Concussions/head injuries.
The study analyzed 25 years of data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System database. It found that though overall playground injuries decreased after 2012, head injuries increased. Injuries can range from minor to severe, and children also can die from playground injuries.
Falls cause a high majority of total playground injuries, the study found. The three most common pieces of equipment where injuries happened were climbing apparatuses, swings, and slides.
“Playground equipment has gotten a lot safer,” says Chris Vitale, RN, MSN, injury prevention manager, UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. “We all — including manufacturers — now have a better understanding of how injury happens on playgrounds. Because of that, the way playgrounds are made has changed in a way that has caused injuries to go down.
“As far as head injuries specifically, oftentimes they involve kids who are too young for the equipment that they’re playing on falling off the equipment.”
Tips to Prevent Playground Injuries
With the right steps, you can keep playground injuries from happening. Making sure your child is playing on age-appropriate equipment, checking out the equipment, and close supervision can help prevent injuries.
Check the playground and equipment for hazards
Before your child even begins to use the playground, make sure it’s safe. Look for problems like broken glass or tripping hazards. Check equipment for open “S” hooks or protruding bolts.
“We always tell parents to do a once-over on the playground and look for things that could be dangerous, even if they were just there yesterday,” Vitale says.
Elevated surfaces should have guardrails to help prevent falls. Openings on equipment — like ladder rungs or guardrails — should be less than 3.5 inches or more than 9 inches wide to prevent kids from getting caught.
If you do notice any equipment hazards, notify the school, community, or whoever else oversees the playground. That way, they can address the problem.
Check out the playground’s surface
The days of concrete or asphalt playground surfaces are mostly long gone. But it’s always important to make sure the surface of the playground is safe.
The surface should have at least 12 inches of wood chips, mulch, sand, or pea gravel, according to the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission. Safety-tested rubber or rubber-like mats can also prevent injury.
The protective surface should extend well beyond the equipment, at least 6 feet in every direction from the equipment.
Think about the heat
Sunny days are great days for play. But the sun can also heat playground equipment like metal slides to dangerous levels — even when temperatures are low. Before your child begins using equipment, make sure it’s cool enough to use without getting burned.
Vitale says it’s especially important to check on the temperature of equipment between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. when the sun is at its peak.
Remove choking/strangulation hazards
Make sure your child takes off any clothing or jewelry that can get caught on equipment and cause potential choking or strangulation. That includes necklaces, scarves, purses, hairbands, hoodies with drawstrings — even bike helmets with straps.
“Make sure to remove anything that’s either around your child’s neck or on their clothing that could pose a hazard. Think about things that could get caught on the playground equipment and become dangerous,” Vitale says.
Make sure they’re using age-appropriate equipment
Playground injuries often happen when children use playground equipment too advanced for their age. Vitale says it’s very important to make sure your child is using equipment made for their age and size.
“If you go to the playground, you’ll often see little ones playing with their older brothers or sisters on the bigger equipment that is appropriately sized for the older child,” Vitale says. “Those ladders are higher, the spacing in between rungs can be wider, and the little kids can fall through.”
“Kids who are preschoolers and toddlers should be playing on playground equipment that is specifically designed for them.”
Don’t use a slide with your child
Vitale says many parents of children who are too young to use a slide themselves will go down the slide while holding the child. But this has caused an increase in leg fractures because the child’s leg can catch on the slide while coming down.
“We always tell parents it’s not a good idea to hold the kids on your lap and slide with them,” Vitale says. “If they’re too little to slide on the slide, wait till they’re older.”
Supervise your child’s use of the playground
The best way to make sure your child doesn’t get injured while using playground equipment is by supervising them. Make sure you or another adult is watching them at all times.
Supervision is most important for children who are under 10 years old, Vitale says.
When to Seek Care for Playground Injuries
Playground injuries are often minor — but they can be more significant, too. And if you’re at all concerned about an injury your child has on the playground, do not hesitate to call their pediatrician. There is no wrong time to seek care if you’re worried. Make sure you’re prepared to answer questions about how far your child fell, the equipment they were using, and more.
“Parents should seek care anytime that they are uncomfortable,” Vitale says. “Even if you’re not sure or feel like you’re overreacting, making a phone call to your PCP is the best thing to do.”
In cases of potential head injury, you should always call your child’s pediatrician, Vitale says. Symptoms of head injuries can take some time to appear — so keep an eye out for warning signs like headache, dizziness, and changes in personality or behavior.
With the right preparation and supervision, your child can have a fun time on the playground while staying safe.
“You want the kids to be active and to be able to have lots of fun,” Vitale says. “So, sometimes, it’s just keeping your eyes on them and doing a check before they start playing just to make sure that it’s safe.”
The Benedum Pediatric Trauma Program at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh provides care for children who are injured. For more information on our services, visit our website.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .
Connect with UPMC
From nutrition to illnesses, from athletics to school, children will face many challenges growing up. Parents often will make important health care decisions for them. We hope to help guide both of you in that journey. UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh is a national leader in pediatric care, ranking consistently on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Children’s Hospitals Honor Roll. We provide expert treatment for pediatric diseases, along well-child visits, urgent care, and more. With locations across Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia, you can find world-class care close to home. We also work closely with UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital, a national leader in care for newborns and their mothers. Our goal is to provide the best care for your children, from birth to adulthood and beyond. Visit our website to find a doctor near you.