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Should Children Wear Helmets When Ice Skating?

January 4, 2012

The short answer is “yes.” If you grew up in St. Louis or any where north of St. Louis, then you probably learned to ice skate at a rink or a frozen lake. You probably fell a lot, hurting your bottom, hands, wrists and knees. And you probably never wore a helmet.

But what you probably don’t realize is that ice skaters tend to hit their heads and faces more frequently than do in-line skaters, yet we are easy to put a helmet on our child to avoid a sports injury like concussion.

Research back five years ago proved that ice skaters tend to hit their heads in a greater proportion of falls (13%) versus in-line skaters (5%) and roller skaters (4%). The researchers behind the study looked at data from 1993 to 2003, what was about 1.2 million injuries suffered while children skated.

Over 80% of the injuries were sustained from falls, with ice skaters sustaining the most concussions (4%). In-line skaters suffered just eight-tenth of a percent of concussions, with roller skaters suffering even less (0.6%).

Typical Sports Injuries When Skating

The main sports injuries that roller skaters and in-line skaters suffered was injuries to their arms, wrists and hands. In-line skating caused the most (48%).

What’s interesting about the research is that the researchers looked at video footage of falls suffered by ice, roller and in-line skaters and found that all typically pitched forward in their falls, but that roller and in-line skaters tend to catch their falls with their hands while ice skaters fall faster and could not catch their falls, thus striking the ice with their faces and heads.

For ice skaters who could catch their falls, the attempt proved unsuccessful since ice is slippery.

No surprise that roller and in-line skaters, then, tend to injure their wrists and hands. No surprise also that they are encouraged to wear wrists guards to protect their wrists, hands and arms. Of course we put a helmet on these children, too.

Naturally it seems wise to then recommend that all children ice skating should wear helmets, but the problem is that the typical helmet may not protect the child’s head adequately since most falls are forward. Your typical helmet is designed to protect a child’s head if he falls backwards.

So, for the best protection a child could wear a hockey helmet with a face guard…but it’s hard to see them giving in to that.

Another option is to have your child wear non-slip wrists guards that keep the hands from slipping out from under your child when they try to catch their fall, but getting that helmet on is essential.

Dr. Rick Lehman is a distinguished orthopedic surgeon in St. Louis, Missouri and an articular cartilage reconstruction pioneer. He owns U. S. Sports Medicine in Kirkwood, MO, and LehmanHealth. Learn more about Dr. Rick.

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