The Hard Data on Ice Skating Injuries Says: Wear a Helmet!

My small California town just opened a new ice skating rink, so my Facebook feed as been filled with friends and their families discovering their new ice skating talents. But what I noticed is that there are very few kids and practically no adults skating with helmets on. As the rest of the country heads into their winter months, I thought a PSA on winter sports safety might be timely.

Those of us who grew up ice skating probably never wore helmets back in the day, so it’s still a strange concept to some of us. We see ice skating in the Olympics (no helmets!) and in movies like Frozen (no helmets!) and we get it in our minds that ice skating with a helmet would make us look pretty dorky.

But I’m here to remind you that ice skating is a sport, and it’s performed on a very unforgiving material in small proximity to a bunch of inexperienced strangers strapped to two giant knives. This isn’t the movies, folks. When people fall down in real life, it’s not always cute. It often results in gashes, concussions, and broken bones.

The Insurance Information Institute states that 20,443 ice skating injuries were treated in 2013, with 47% of them for 5- to 14-year-olds. The American Academy of Pediatrics confirms these numbers with an estimation that 10,000 children are treated for ice skating injuries in the ERs across the United States each year. Granted these numbers include any kind of injury caused by ice skating, from cuts to broken bones, hypothermia to drowning, so how effective are helmets anyway?

A research paper on the result of wearing helmets in skating injuries reports the following data:

  • Overall, 76.5% of children were reported to be wearing no protective equipment, such as a helmet or padding on the elbows or knees, at the time of injury.
  • Ice-skaters were at greater risk of injury to the head (20.0%) than were in-line skaters (4.9%); a weak difference was noted between ice-skaters and rollerskaters (9.9%), with no significant difference in head injuries between ice-skaters and skateboarders (15.9%).
  • Ice-skaters demonstrated lacerations to the head in 68.8% of abnormal head examinations, compared with 37.0% for rollerskaters and 50.0% for in-line skaters; however, there was no significant difference in lacerations to the head between ice-skaters and skateboarders (53.3%).

Don’t let that prevent you from enjoying a fun exercise if you enjoy it, but remember that the same safety precautions should be used for ice skating as with other skating sports. The Rhode Island Hospital Injury Prevention Center offers the following tips to prevent ice-related injuries:

  • Make sure ice skates fit comfortably and provide ankle support. Poor fitting skates can cause blisters. Lack of ankle support makes ankles wobbly and can lead to injuries.
  • Inexperienced skaters should learn some ice skating basics, which include learning how to stop and fall safely, as well as basic safety rules.
  • Always look where you are going, even when skating backward.
  • Always obey rink rules, such as skating in the same direction as other skaters.
  • Always be alert and aware of surroundings. Never wear earphones or talk on a cell phone while ice skating.
  • Wear a helmet. This is especially important for young children or beginner skaters.
  • Consider wearing other safety equipment such as knee pads and wrist guards, especially young children and inexperienced skaters.
  • Dress appropriately to avoid cold-related injury.
  • Make sure you rest when you become tired or cold. More skating accidents happen when you’re tired.
  • Never skate on an untested lake or pond.
  • The ice should be a minimum of six inches thick to be safe.
  • Never skate alone. Children should always be supervised by an adult.
  • Only skate during the day or if the area is lit.
  • Have a cell phone available to call for help if necessary.
  • Never cross a frozen pond as a shortcut.
  • Never go out on a frozen pond after an animal.
And from personal experience as a parent, I would like to also add one more: Don’t lift anyone else while ice skating, not even small children. Also, remind children not to cling to you or anyone else while skating—equipment is available for those who need extra support.
So wear a helmet, use caution, be smart, and have fun!
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