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UMass Medical School study finds snow sport injuries differ by age

By Sandra Gray

UMass Medical School Communications

October 25, 2019
Jeremy Aidlen, MD, (left) and Robert McLoughlin, MD, co-authored a study finding age differences in children’s snow sport injuries.

A new study from UMass Medical School finds that younger children participating in snow sports are more likely to suffer severe head and facial injuries, while older kids and teens sustain more internal abdominal traumas. Serious injuries can occur while kids are sledding, downhill skiing and snowboarding.

“We were interested to see that the type of injuries children had varied according to their age, and we believe these findings can better inform educational and legislative efforts aimed at reducing injuries in children who participate in winter sports,” said study co-author and pediatric surgery research fellow Robert McLoughlin, MD. “We would like to see a greater use of helmets and more awareness that they should be required for younger kids. Older kids need to be educated on the risks of some of the activities they are doing, and that even if they are wearing helmets, they are not invincible.”

Dr. McLoughlin and the research team at UMass Medical School turned to the Kids Inpatient Database to see if nationwide data was consistent with their anecdotal observations about the incidences of various types of snow sport injuries among kids of different ages admitted for surgery at UMass Memorial Medical Center, the region’s only Level 1 Trauma Center. Created by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, KID is the largest pediatric inpatient care database in the United States.

The data showed that among 845 children admitted to hospitals for snow sport injuries nationwide between 2009 and 2012, elementary school age children were more likely than those in middle and high school to suffer skull or facial fractures. Tweens and teens were more likely to experience intra-abdominal injuries. More than half of the children admitted required major surgery.

“For younger patients, many head injuries are likely from tobogganing, head first or not, without a helmet,” said co-author Jeremy Aidlen, MD, associate professor of surgery and chief of the Division of Pediatric Surgery. “For teenagers having more abdominal injuries, we speculate that perhaps there’s some more risk-taking behavior, whether on moguls or ski jumps, that cause them to crash into objects with the torso rather than head-first. Even if they’re wearing helmets, they’re injuring their bellies because that’s what’s not protected.”

The research abstract will be presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Pediatrics on Sunday, Oct. 27, by School of Medicine student Shruthi Srinivas, a co-author along with McLoughlin, Dr. Aidlen and fellow UMMS pediatric trauma surgeons Michael Hirsh, MD, professor of surgery; Muriel Cleary, MD, MHS, assistant professor of surgery; and resident Jonathan Green, MD.

“Injury prevention is one of the pillars of the profession in pediatric surgery,” McLoughlin said. “Snow sport safety education starts with us.”

Inspired by Dr. Hirsh, members of the UMMS pediatric surgery team are addressing snow sport safety on a grassroots level, traveling to local high schools to survey teens about their attitudes and behaviors related to snow sports and to discuss how they can be safer while enjoying healthy outdoor activities.

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