Safe Sledding

By Dev K. Mishra, M.D., President, Sideline Sports Doc, Clinical Assistant Professor of Orthopedic Surgery, Stanford University

Key Points:

  • Sledding is a fun winter activity that can be enjoyed even by the youngest kids
  • Sledding is generally very safe but a surprising number of serious injuries do occur each year, mostly from the sledder hitting immovable objects such as trees
  • The single most important safety point is to sled in an area with no risk of running into trees, posts, or rocks

It’s actually somewhat cold here in the San Francisco Bay Area, it was about 32 degrees calvin_and_hobbes sleddingthis morning when I took our dogs out for a walk and it got me thinking about the snow. So today I’m going to go over some tips for those of you whose kids are involved in the sport of competitive sledding. Ha! True, bobsled and luge are competitive sports practiced by many young athletes but today we’re just going to go over some recreational sledding safety points. Recreational sledding is one of those rare few remaining activities available to children that’s generally about fun and isn’t bogged down by super-competitiveness.

It’s easy to think of sledding as a low-key benign activity (which it usually is…) yet there are risks associated with sliding sports that must be minimized in order to prevent injury. Each year, there are between 20,000 and 90,000 sledding injuries in the United States requiring emergency department care. Some of these injuries are fatal or result in life-long disability. More than 60 sledding related deaths have been reported since 1990. One of my best friends from high school- an expert competitive skier- was paralyzed from the waist down when doing some simple sledding with his daughter.

The main risks in sledding occur when the sled or sledder hits an immovable object such as a tree or rock or a collision occurs between a sled and a person. Injuries include sprains, strains, cuts, and fractures. Sleds can reach speeds of up to 25 miles per hour. The most dangerous injuries are to the head and spine. Collisions with motor vehicles are particularly dangerous.

Injury Prevention Tips

  • Most important: use a safe sledding area! No obstruction such as trees, rocks, and posts. The potential path of the sled should not cross streets, water, or any drop-offs. Ideally, the area chosen will be specifically designated for sledding.
  • No tow-sledding, such as with a snowmobile.
  • Helmets should be worn by all children, especially those younger than 12.
  • All children should have adult supervision.
  • Make sure that children or adults supervising children control sledding “traffic” to make sure that active sledders don’t run into sledders who are finished or who are walking back up the hill.
  • Sit on a sled facing forward. Headfirst sledding is more dangerous.
  • Have enough light to see where you’re going. Sledding near trees in darkness is a dangerous combination.
  • Physical and mental fatigue may be factors that contribute to injury risk.
  • Sleds with steering mechanisms are safer than unsteerable products such as toboggans
    or discs.
  • Plastic sheets or other
    objects that can be penetrated by rocks or vegetation should not be used.

Sledding is a really fun winter activity and generally very safe, but the injuries that dossd.banner
occur can be devastating. Follow the safety guidelines and you’ll likely have a great time in the snow and keep yourself out of trouble.