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Diseases & Conditions



Staying Healthy

Accidents happen, let kids play

John Gaffney, DO

John T. Gaffney, DO, FAAOS
Any views or recommendations shared in the Ortho-pinions blog are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

Accidents happen on playgrounds.  Use of a bicycle can lead to injuries.  Riding skateboards can lead to fractures.  Participation in sports can lead to overuse injury. 

The list of activities and injuries associated with those activities is long and sounds alarming.  Indeed, I and my colleagues have contributed to the literature discussing injuries sustained by a child participating in play and sports.

Children like to run, climb, jump and participate in many activities that involve risk of injury.  No one would argue that risk can lead to injury, but risk is part of life and it can be fun.

Playground use, sports and other playtime activities are an important part of childhood development.  It is during these activities that a child learns to make judgments about risk, height, length, strength and about their ability. They relish the feeling of accomplishment when they complete a task that looked difficult.  We see how the satisfaction in accomplishing something brings the confidence to try something new in the future.  Parents can all remember the pride in their child’s face when they proudly stated: “Look what I can do.”

Why do people naturally participate in something that may lead to injury?  You could argue that children do not know any better, but adults regularly participate in activities that place them at risk of injury, as well.  Extreme sports are more popular than ever.  Perhaps learning to manage risk is part of the healthy development of children. 

There are stories reported in the media about removing playgrounds and stopping children from running outside during school-time due to the risk of injury.  That is unfortunate.  Playgrounds were only invented to replace the tree or fence children were already climbing and all parents know how difficult it is to get a child to stop running.  There is something normal about the child that is active. Although a child may become injured while running or jumping, it would be difficult to find someone to argue that activity is bad for children. 

Children do not have the experience and knowledge needed to make the best decisions.  The risk of injury in children requires adult supervision and is the most reliable way to avoid unnecessary risk.  Steps can and should be taken by adults to create a safer environment for a child to play. Here are some guidelines to avoid injury:

  • Have your child play on age-appropriate playground equipment and follow instructions posted at the playground.
  • The ground should be made of a softer material, such as rubber or wood chips.
  • Check the temperature of the slide and other equipment with your hand before your child starts playing.
  • Do not let a young child go down the slide on someone else’s lap.
  • When using bicycles, scooters and other riding toys, wear appropriate safety gear—including a well-fitting helmet.

In the older child, sports become a bigger part of life. Year-round same sport play is now part of their life and overuse injury is common.  Teach your young athlete to listen to his or her body.  If it hurts, stop.  Children who play through pain will eventually end up in my office. 

Learn more about Safety for Young Athletes.

This Ortho-pinion was originally written for A Nation in Motion, the AAOS's award-winning public awareness campaign dedicated to sharing the stories of people whose lives were improved by orthopaedic surgery.

Last Reviewed

October 2019

Contributed and/or Updated by

John T. Gaffney, DO, FAAOS

AAOS does not endorse any treatments, procedures, products, or physicians referenced herein. This information is provided as an educational service and is not intended to serve as medical advice. Anyone seeking specific orthopaedic advice or assistance should consult his or her orthopaedic surgeon, or locate one in your area through the AAOS Find an Orthopaedist program on this website.