Skateboarding injuries range from bruises and abrasions to sprains, strains, fractures, and dislocations. More serious injuries that require hospitalization often involve the head and spine. Wrist fractures are quite common, often caused by falling off the skateboard and landing on an outstretched arm. Facial injuries include broken noses and jawbones. “Every skateboarder should expect a fall at sometime,” says Dr. Peretz, “but every boarder must also take responsibility for his or her own safety. Our safety guidelines fall into three major categories: wearing protective gear, learning how to fall, and knowing where to skate.”
Wear Protective Gear
A properly fitting helmet is the most important item for skateboarders of every age and experience level. It should be a bicycle or multi-sport helmet that meets or exceeds safety standards of the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) or Snell Memorial Foundation. A properly fitting helmet sits low on the forehead and is worn flat on the head. It should have pads inside that can be installed or removed to ensure a snug fit. The helmet should not move in any direction when the head moves and must not interfere with movement, vision, or hearing.
Knee and elbow pads reduce the severity of cuts and scrapes and prevent gravel burns. Wrist guards support the wrists and may help prevent a broken bone when falling. “But the wrist is best protected by not catching yourself with your hands when you fall,” says Dr. Peretz. Shoes should be closed and slip-resistant, and goggles should be considered to keep debris out of the eyes.
The skateboard itself should be of high quality and in good working order. It should be checked before every ride for loose, broken, or cracked parts, sharp edges on metal boards, a slippery top surface, and wheels with nicks or cracks.
Learn How to Fall
“Learn not to catch yourself with your hands,” says Dr. Peretz. “Your natural instinct when you fall is to throw your hands out, but when you do this on concrete from a skateboard, you can break your wrist. Wrist guards may help, but it is better to learn to fall properly.”
“If you are losing your balance, crouch on the skateboard so you do not have to fall so far. And try to land on the fleshy parts of the body rather than your arms. Roll to land on your shoulder or back, tucking in your elbows. On a ramp, wear knee pads and fall to your knees, and slide down the ramp on the pads. You can also practice running away for a fall. When you sense a maneuver going bad, try running off the board before you lose your balance and fall.”
Know Where to Skate
Controlled environments like skate parks are generally the safest place to skate and the only places new tricks and jumps should be practiced with adult supervision and with appropriate access to medical emergency care. The most dangerous places to skate are in or near traffic, in the dark, on homemade ramps, and in crowded locations where a collision is likely with another skater, a pedestrian, or a bicyclist. Even the most experienced skateboarders get in trouble on rough or uneven surfaces, wet pavement, or where rocks, twigs, or other debris can cause a fall. According to CPSC, irregular surfaces account for over half of all skateboard injuries. “You should always be aware of your surroundings,” says Dr. Peretz. “Know who is around and make sure your wheels will not run into unexpected surfaces or obstacles”.
Finally, the most important safety tip is to know your limits. “Never skate faster than appropriate for the conditions and your experience level,” Dr. Peretz concludes. “Never showoff, never take chances, and be considerate of other skateboarders, especially those who are younger or less experienced.”
Somers Orthopaedic Surgery & Sports Medicine Group,PLLC founded in 1988, is one of the most comprehensive and specialized practices in the region. www.somersortho.com
Dr. Andrew M. Peretz, M.D., F.A.A.O.S. is a board-certified orthopaedic surgeon and spine specialist.
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