How dangerous is skateboarding?

Skateboard-related injuries account for an estimated 50,000 emergency department visits and 1,500 hospitalizations among children and adolescents each year in the U.S. In other words, skateboarding can be dangerous. There are ways to reduce the risks.

Proper safety gear: Whatever the board — long, short or street — and whatever the skateboarder’s amount of experience, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that skateboarders wear proper safety gear:

A helmet that meets or exceeds the safety standards set by independent testing organizations. The helmet should be replaced at least every five years or sooner if damaged or outgrown. A properly fitting helmet:

  • Is flat on the head with the bottom edge parallel to the ground
  • Sits low on the forehead and covers the back of the head
  • Has side straps that form a "V" around each ear
  • Has a buckle that fastens tightly, allowing room for only two fingers between the helmet strap and the chin
  • Has pads that can be added to or removed from the inside, so the helmet fits snugly and does not move with shaking
  • Does not interfere with movement, vision or hearing
  • Wrist guards, which can reduce injuries by 90 percent
  • Elbow pads, which can reduce injuries by 80 percent
  • Knee pads, which can reduce injuries by 30 percent

Skating safety: For safety, the National Safety Council advises that skateboards must never be ridden in the street, regardless of traffic volume. “Skitching a ride,” which is holding on to the side or rear of a moving vehicle while riding a skateboard, should never be done because the rider cannot accommodate a sudden stop or swerve of the vehicle.

Injuries: Skateboarding requires balance and agility, which is why you will never see me on one! First-time "boarders" (those skating for less than a week) account for one-third of the 50,000 skateboarding injuries treated each year in emergency departments, according to the NSC. Most skateboard injuries occur on public roads, sidewalks and in parking lots. Injuries are usually caused by falls and collisions.  Sprains and fractures to the wrists and ankles are common.

Concussions are serious – this I think everyone knows. A concussion is a traumatic brain injury that disrupts normal brain function. Symptoms may include headaches and problems with concentration, memory, balance and coordination. What I’m not sure everyone knows is that symptoms of a concussion may not be apparent right away and that a person with a concussion may report feeling better before his or her brain has adequately recovered. Prematurely returning to skateboarding after a concussion can be devastating. Second impact syndrome is when a second concussion occurs within weeks of the first concussion and causes diffuse cerebral swelling, brain herniation and death.

Age matters: Young children are at high risk of injury because their center of gravity is higher than that of older individuals and their neuromuscular system is not well developed, making them less able to protect themselves from injury. In addition, they are not able to judge their own skills and strength and not able to judge traffic. Children younger than 5-years-old should not ride skateboards and those 6-10 years old should be closely supervised while skateboarding.  

Practice falling: If they rehearse falling, skateboarders can lessen their impact with the ground and decrease injuries. When starting to fall, they should crouch down on the skateboard so that they will not have as far to fall. They should try to land on the fleshy parts of the body rather than on their arms, and relax and roll.

My motherly advice: Don’t do it.

My doctorly advice:

  • Skateboarding injuries can be reduced by using the appropriate safety equipment and following safety guidelines.
  • The AAP encourages more skateboarding parks in communities. Skate parks are preferred to home-constructed ramps and jumps and are more likely to be monitored. They also are most often set back from pedestrian and vehicle traffic.
  • All concussions are serious, and individuals with suspected concussions should see a doctor and not return to skateboarding before being cleared by a doctor.