Parents are always scolding children about wearing helmets and pads while pedaling a bicycle or grabbing air with a skateboard. But rarely is this caution seen when it comes to kids sledding down snowy slopes.

Parents are always scolding children about wearing helmets and pads while pedaling a bicycle or grabbing air with a skateboard.


But rarely is this caution seen when it comes to kids sledding down snowy slopes. With winter here and many regions covered with a layer of snow, it’s time for parents to use caution when it comes to winter fun outdoors.


Children under 12 should always wear a helmet when they hit the slopes, said James Orear, a physician at McCune-Brooks Hospital in Carthage, Mo.


“Do not sled where there is active automobile traffic,” Orear said. “Wear a helmet.”


He also said it’s a good idea to keep one person to each sled at a time, and absolutely “no pulling a sled behind a car.”


Most of Orear’s advice is common-sense tidbits, but kids and adults alike don’t always heed the advice. Most sledding injuries are broken arms, legs and collarbones. Orear said closed-head injuries, such as concussions, are always on the menu. Luckily, severe head injuries are uncommon.


Kansas City-based pediatric-trauma coordinator Lynne Sears worries about injuries she calls “the worst of the worst.”


“I’m talking about head injuries such as concussions, internal bleeding caused by collisions, internal injuries to the liver and spleen after a child is hit in the stomach, and spinal cord injuries,” she said. “Those never heal as well as broken bones.”


In 2005, 20,000 children ages 5 to 14 needed medical attention because of mishaps on sleds, according to the Safe Kids Coalition, an organization dedicated to preventing accidental injuries.


Most experts will tell you that small slopes where a couple of kids are sledding are probably OK. But if there’s a steep hill where everyone is going very fast, or where kids are colliding with one another, a rock or a tree, then there is potential for significant injuries.


According to the Safe Kids Coalition, helmets should have tightened chinstraps: ski or snowboard helmets offer the best protection. They should fit properly and make good contact with both sides of the head as well as the front and back. Sledding-related injuries among kids who wear protective equipment are reduced by more than half.


Aside from using helmets, sledding enthusiasts can take other steps to avoid a trip to the hospital.  For example, riders should sit on the sled feet first, not head first, and children younger than 12 should have adult supervision. Also, adults and children should know the surroundings.


“Remember, most sled injuries are preventable,” Sears said.


Carthage Press


Safe sledding tips


The National Safety Council offers these guidelines for safe and fun sledding and tobogganing:


- Keep all equipment in good condition. Broken parts, sharp edges, cracks and split wood invite injuries.


- Dress warmly enough for conditions.


- Sled on spacious, gently sloping hills that have a level run-off at the end so the sled can come to a halt safely. Avoid steep slopes and slopes located near streets and roadways.


- Check slopes for bare spots, holes and other obstructions that might cause injury. Bypass these areas or wait until conditions are better.


- Make sure the sledding path does not cross traffic and is free from hazards such as large trees, fences, rocks or telephone poles.


- Do not sled on or around frozen lakes, streams or ponds -- the ice may be unstable.


- The proper position for sledding is to sit or lay on your back on the top of the sled, with your feet pointing downhill. Sledding head first increases the risk of head injury and should be avoided.


- Sledders should wear thick gloves or mittens and protective boots to protect against frostbite as well as potential injury.