Playground Concussions on the Rise

As a child, 32-year-old Jared Wier remembers many summer nights spent on the playground in his Long Island neighborhood.

“Growing up, my parents, just sent me to the park,” Wier said. “It was a way for me to burn off some energy without being in the house all day.”

Playgrounds have a different meaning to Wier now that he works as an elementary school physical education teacher. Wier said he sees a crowded jungle gym as an accident waiting to happen.

“I think now playgrounds can be more dangerous, so there should be more supervision,” Wier said. “Kids are extremely clumsy, they fall and run into each other all the time.”

According to a new report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of children getting concussions at the playground is on the rise.

The report found that in the last decade emergency rooms treated an average of 21,000 playground-related traumatic brain injuries per year among kids aged 14 and younger.

Most of those injuries occurred during the month of May, researcher said. On Tuesday night, Community Board 12 is hosting a meeting on safety in parks and playgrounds, where they hope to raise awareness of the issue.

Wier is already well aware of the hazards of the playground. He said he handles multiple playground related concussions each school year in his P.E. class at Achievement First, a charter school in Brooklyn.

“I had a kid whose shoelace was untied and he fell backwards.” Wier said. “He bounced right back up like everything was okay, but an hour later he was throwing up in class and had to be taken to a hospital.”

In the study, researchers said the increase of concussions may be caused by the large number of students who have access to playgrounds and also to the heightened awareness surrounding concussions.

About two-thirds of the injuries documented in the report occurred at schools and recreational facilities.

Majidah Muhammad’s 2-year-old-son Haqq Muhammad fell while playing at a recreational facility – the YMCA – in February.

“We were leaving when out of nowhere he jumped off the ledge, fell, tripped, and busted his lip,” Muhammad said.

Muhammad took her son to the emergency room immediately after the fall. “They asked me if he blacked out, was he conscious the whole time, did he cry immediately?” Muhammad said.

Her son did not have a concussion, but Muhammad said she was glad she took the extra precautions. “I don’t think most moms know the signs of a concussion,” Muhammad said.

The study’s author, Dr. Jeneita Bell, said Muhammad made the right call in taking her son to the hospital.

“Common signs and symptoms of concussion include headache, dizziness, and difficulty concentrating,” Bell said in an email. “However, these can be difficult to discern in small children, so parents should seek medical attention if there is any concern after a head injury.”

According to the study, the monkey bars, jungle gym and swing sets are the equipment most frequently associated with concussions.

The CDC encourages parents to ensure playground equipment is appropriate for their child’s age and to check for guardrails and soft materials such as wood chips or mulch that may soften a fall. Parents should also look out for objects like tree stumps or rocks that may cause a child to trip and fall.

Source: Centers for Disease Prevention and Control

Caregivers can supervise, but the CDC also recommends that cities make sure parks meet the latest safety standards.

Manhattan’s Community Board 12 chairperson Shahabuddeen Ally said his committee checks parks regularly for ways to improve safety.

“We focus on functionality,” Ally said. “Is this safe for children to use whether they’re using it properly or misusing it and will they cause injury to children.”

According to the CDC report, most brain injuries sustained on playgrounds are mild but can have longterm effects on physical, cognitive and behavioral health.

That’s why Wier roams the playground daily, keeping careful watch over his students.

“Kids fall and they won’t say anything,” said Wier. “They won’t tell anyone they have symptoms, so teachers and parents don’t know that the kid was severely hurt until they need medical attention. It’s my job to keep an eye out and make sure those injuries don’t go unnoticed and untreated.”