Carve, grind, air or ramp — keep young skateboarders safe

Date Published: 
July 11, 2014

I hope you had a chance to catch this year’s Dew Tour. I didn’t get to go, but Coastal Point readers like me got to follow the action along with the more than 100,000 folks who converged on Ocean City for an incredible 10th season. The world’s best skateboarders put on quite a show, and who wasn’t excited to see Baltimore native Bucky Lasek become this year’s Skate Bowl Dew Cup champ?

Skateboarding has come a long way from its early days, in both popularity and the variety of tricks that have evolved. What hasn’t changed is the need to understand skateboard injuries and how to prevent them.

Let’s face it — like any sport, skateboarding carries its share of risk. Injuries are going to happen in a sport like this, but there are ways to avoid them. You can help your young skateboarders eliminate some of the risks by understanding what the most typical injuries are and what you can do to help prevent them.

Along with its increased popularity, skateboarding injuries have been on the rise. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the first step to safety requires that parents put their foot down when it comes to who can skate. The AAP says children younger than 5 should never be allowed to skateboard and children 6 to 10 should only be given permission if they are closely supervised by an adult or an extremely mature and trustworthy adolescent.

If your kids get upset about those restrictions, you’ve got science on your side. Because youngsters have a higher center of gravity and have poor balance because they are still developing, they are at much higher risk of falling and hitting their heads. They have a slower reaction time and their coordination is still developing, which means breaking a fall or even understanding how to fall is outside their experience level.

Once they’re old enough to ride, your kids really need your guidance so they don’t become a statistic, because this is a sport that lacks coaches and rules that many other sports typically include.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reports that more than 15,600 people are treated in emergency rooms annually for skateboarding injuries. The highest numbers of injuries involve concussions, neck injuries, fractures, soft-tissue injuries, sprains and injuries to wrists, ankles and faces. They also see the results of a number of over-use injuries affecting everything from ligaments to joints.

As devoted Coastal Point readers, you’ve no doubt read my articles on the nature of these types of injuries. What I want you to remember is that kids have no fear. They think protective gear is not cool and not needed, and they don’t think in terms of preparation, safety and training. That’s where you come in, so let’s start with some basic advice about injuries.

When injuries happen, don’t let your young athlete climb back on the board without a checkup. If ever the expression, “better safe than sorry” applies, it sure does here. Typical abrasions and lacerations you can handle, but potential concussions and fractures require immediate professional attention.

If a skateboarder whacks their head or takes a bad fall, get it checked out. Just because there is no loss of consciousness doesn’t mean there hasn’t been a head injury, and you don’t want to mistake a fracture for a sprain.

Be aware of pain, swelling or inflammation. If you observe that the pain is worse or not improving, if pain seems particularly obvious when your skateboarder is active, or if you notice limping or any signs of range of motion limitations, whether they like it or not, a checkup is in order. A medical professional will evaluate the injury and expect scans like X-rays or MRIs to be ordered.

Inflammation may require treatment with an anti-inflammatory medication. For fractures and many of the other typical injuries, such as sprains, ligament damage and over-use problems, expect a referral to a physical therapist with specialized sports-injury training. The physical therapist will create a recovery and rehabilitation plan and will coordinate with your doctor to be sure your child is fully healed before riding the rails again.

The best way to protect young skateboarders is for you to focus on prevention, and that starts with protective gear. A properly fitted helmet is a must. Make sure it is buckled and secured, or it will go flying off and defeat the purpose. Wrist guards, knee guards and elbow guards help prevent a variety of injuries from falls, whether you are talking riding ramps or bowls.

Injury prevention also means understanding some simple do’s and don’ts. Skateboarders need to stay away from areas that have motor vehicle traffic or heavy pedestrian traffic. It’s a recipe for disaster. The safest places are skate parks or home-based bowls and ramps. Never ever let your skateboarder use headphones while on their board. And it’s one skateboarder at a time — no double-up riders.

The final element of injury prevention involves physical preparation. Skateboarding is a physically demanding sport. Warm-ups with light stretching should be standard before every ride.

If your skateboarder is really into the sport and riding frequently, strength training will go a long way toward ligament and tendon strengthening and helping to build overall muscle strength. You don’t need expensive equipment, just a good plan.

Prevention also means cross-training to avoid over-use injuries or stress-related muscle injuries and incorporates a healthy development program for all your muscles.

Skateboarding is a wonderful sport, and I am always ready to encourage staying active and physically fit. It creates a lifelong path to good health and healthier aging. As parents, you can’t help but worry, but you can channel that concern into a positive plan to protect your skateboarder if you stick to the guidelines.

Bob Cairo is a licensed physical therapist at Tidewater Physical Therapy. He can be reached by calling (302) 537-7260.