Children Experience Treadmill Injuries at Home

By Carolyn Crist

December 07, 2020

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Children under age 13 may hurt themselves on treadmills at home - either by using one themselves or interacting with an adult or older child - leading to friction burns, head injuries and other serious wounds, according to a new study.

During the pandemic, many states closed gyms, and more people bought fitness equipment and treadmills to use at home. Children may face more risks for injuries if they use the equipment without supervision or if the treadmill is in a common area where children could be exposed to moving parts, a team of emergency physicians write in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine.

"As more people are working from home and children are spending less time in the classroom and more time isolating due to the pandemic, we have seen an increase in injuries from the home," said lead author Dr. Mark Waltzman of Boston Children's Hospital.

He and his colleagues have noticed an increase in the number of children who arrive at the emergency room with various injuries from treadmills in particular.

"As gyms are closed, more people are purchasing home equipment to maintain their fitness," he told Reuters Health by email. "However, there is little - if any - discussion of the inherent dangers of having these machines in the home, especially around young children."

Dr. Waltzman and colleagues used a natural-language-processing tool to analyze electronic health records at the hospital to better understand what injuries are common and which ages face the most risks.

They found 93 treadmill-related injuries, which all occurred at home and typically in children under 16. About 42% of the cases happened when the child used a treadmill, most often around age 10. About 24% of injuries occurred when a child approached the treadmill as an older child or adult was exercising, usually between ages 3 and 5.

Several different types of injuries occurred. Friction burns and bruises were the most common injuries reported in 61% of patients. Degloving happened in 15 patients.

About 47% of patients needed some type of intervention, such as stitches, a cast or an operation that required anesthesia. In two cases, the child broke an arm, and in one case, the child had a dislocation of the clavicle. In another severe case, the child needed a toe amputation.

"While maintaining cardiovascular health is important, maintaining safety is equally vital," Dr. Waltzman said. "These machines are not intended for use by young children, and if they are accessible to them, parents need to be aware of the inherent dangers and make sure their children do not treat this equipment as a toy."

Treadmills lack safety features, such as guards between the moving thread and the floor, which opens up the possibility for small body parts to be trapped, the authors write. Design modifications could reduce these injuries in the future.

"Treadmills are, in essence, heavy-duty machinery that we choose to place in our homes for the purposes of fitness, but we often do not consider the risks to young children," said Dana Noffsinger, a trauma nurse practitioner at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. Noffsinger, who wasn't involved with this study, has researched treadmill injuries among children.

"Treadmill injuries to young children are commonly friction burns that are more severe than burns from other sources such as stovetops or oven doors," she told Reuters Health by email.

Equipment manuals should include warnings about potential injuries, both during use and while stationary, the authors write. Consumers should also know ways to prevent injuries, such as closing off rooms with treadmill access, using baby gates or play pens, and positioning treadmills to face the room so the user can see anyone who approaches the machine.

"Parental awareness and supervision are of great importance to limit these serious injuries," said Dr. Joshua Catapano of Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, Arizona. Dr. Catapano, who also wasn't involved in the study, has written about treadmill-associated head injuries that have been documented in U.S. emergency rooms.

"Given the increase in the number of adults working out at home due to the pandemic, there is an inevitable increased risk of injury to children from home gym equipment," he told Reuters Health by email.

SOURCE: American Journal of Emergency Medicine, online November 17, 2020.