Shattered leg bones requiring three or four surgeries to correct, broken bones tearing through muscle and skin and fractured spinal cords resulting in paralysis are injuries doctors expect to see from high-speed car accidents. But more and more frequently these types of injuries are coming from an unexpected place: trampoline parks.
Doctors on Utah Valley Regional Medical Center's trauma services team are concerned about the number and intensity of injuries they are seeing coming from trampoline parks in the area.
"The injuries we are seeing are not sprained ankles or minor concussions," said Adam Phillips, a physician's assistant on trauma service. "These are life-altering injuries, injuries you would see from high-speed crashes or someone falling off a 30-foot cliff."
The staff at UVRMC say they have been tracking injury rates since the spike started in 2009. Phillips said from June 2009 to October 2012 they saw 57 injuries, with 52 of them occurring after April 2011. He said nationally in 2010 trampoline accidents, both at homes and in parks, accounted for 92,159 visits to the ER.
Orthopedic surgeon Dr. William Bacon, also a member of the trauma service team, said one of their biggest concerns is the underrepresentation of injury rates. Bacon said most trampoline parks use a study done in 2002 that was published in the American Academy of Pediatrics Journal. The study cites trampoline parks as having a .2 percent injury rate, or two injuries for every 1,000 customers. In comparison baseball would cause 17 injuries, soccer 21 and football 15 for the same number of participants. Bacon said in one weekend they saw five serious injuries coming from trampoline parks throughout the county.
"They would have had to have 150,000 customers over the weekend for those injury rates to be accurate," Bacon said. "We are seeing as many injuries or more from this source as we do from the crazy people driving ATVs and motorcycles."
Bacon wouldn't identify which trampoline parks those injuries came from, but local parks say their injury rates aren't even as high as the study showed. Misty Uribe, general manager of Lowe's Xtreme Air Sports in Provo, said she doesn't classify her gym as a trampoline park. She said they only have six trampolines, placed throughout the gym in pairs, with foam pits into which customers can jump.
"We feel we are different from trampoline parks. Our whole setup is different," Uribe said. In 2012 Lowe's Xtreme had an injury rate of seven or eight injuries for every 10,000 people that came to their facility. Uribe said last year 124,833 people visited Lowe's Xtreme and there were 97 injuries, 69 of which would be considered minor.
"We track all injuries, whether it is a rolled ankle or someone hit their nose on their knee, and write incident reports," Uribe said. "We have broken legs or arms once in a while, but we do reports on why it happened and every injury, there is nothing that could've been done to prevent it. Like someone is just jumping and they land and their leg just breaks."
Uribe said when only considering serious injuries, like broken bones or when the ambulance has to be called, the injury rate drops to two for every 10,000 people.
Get Air Hang Time in Orem is set up with areas of wall to wall trampolines. Unlike those at Lowe's Xtreme the trampolines aren't competition grade; they are similar to trampoline mats you would see on a trampoline at home. Get Air Hang Time didn't disclose its injury rates but has the 2002 study posted on the website as a reference.
"Get Air Hang Time takes safety very seriously. Our proactive, trained safety coaches, waterfall trampolines, heavy duty netting barriers, thick safety pads and safety orientation with every customer helps us maintain a safer facility," owner Aaron Cobabe said.
Managers from Jump On It in Lindon said they keep track of their injuries and fill out incident reports but didn't comment further on injury rates or safety procedures.
A few of the injuries doctors at UVRMC have seen include someone's bone exploding due to the pressure in his leg and a compound fracture in which the person jumping landed, broke his leg, bounced back up and upon landing the broken bone cut through the mat of the trampoline. Additionally, a 19-year-old man was paralyzed.
Stephen Merrill was finishing his first year at BYU and was preparing to go on a mission to Buenos Aires, Argentina, when one flip changed his life. Merrill said he was with a large group of friends at Lowe's Xtreme when he did a flip into a foam pit. He overrotated and went into the pit head first.
"I went straight through the foam into the trampoline underneath, landed on my head and broke the C5 vertebra in my neck," Merrill said. "I had to be fished out by the firefighters and taken to the hospital. That was a little difficult because I was under all the foam and it's hard to move around in those things."
Merrill said initially he couldn't move from his neck down but once doctors relieved the pressure on his spine, feeling and movement gradually came back to his upper body. To this day Merrill is a paraplegic and confined to a wheelchair.
Uribe said Lowe's had just opened when Merrill's accident happened.
"We almost closed down because of that accident," Uribe said. "We were going to close because if that type of injury couldn't be prevented we didn't want to be in business." Their foam pits were built to the standard for gymnastics but after the incident they made their foam pits even safer.
Merrill said he isn't angry at Lowe's for the accident and he doesn't blame them for what happened.
"It was probably a freak accident. The only that would have prevented it would have been a better construction of the foam. Why did I go through it so easily? Why did I land so hard? Maybe it wasn't deep enough or springy enough," he said. "It wasn't anyone's fault, and they weren't out to get me. Certainly there could have been better safety precautions in place, but I'm not angry."
Both Lowe's and Get Air Hang Time have safety coaches on site who watch what is happening on the trampolines and enforce rules and safety procedures.
Kayson Spendlove, senior manager at Get Air Hang Time, said several of their coaches are trained in CPR and all of them are trained to watch for unsafe behavior.
"We have never had an issue with kicking people out for breaking the rules," Spendlove said. "Our coaches will just go over and talk to people and say, 'Hey we can't have you doing that,' and explaining why and people get it."
Cobabe said their safety coaches are part of the experience at Get Air Hang Time.
"We are proactively working with people. If we see them trying to do a trick that is outside their ability we go talk to them," he said.
Bacon, the trauma doctor, said regardless of whether the injuries happening at trampoline parks can be prevented, better regulation of the industry needs to exist. Right now there are no standards to which gyms have to be built, no governing body to answer to in terms of injury rates and no regulation.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends one person at a time, no somersaults or flips, full safety pad coverage, no children younger than 6 and adult supervision for trampolines at home. Bacon said similar guidelines should be put in place for trampoline parks.
Both Lowe's Xtreme Air Sports and Get Air Hang Time have rules on their websites that include not doing tricks out of your ability level, no diving into foam pits and no double bouncing. Participants at both places are required to watch a safety video before they jump.
Merrill said doing tricks at your level is something that could prevent injuries.
"I would say don't try to do something too crazy if you are not an experienced gymnast," he said. "A lot of people just go and don't have any background in gymnastics and maybe that is where the injuries happen. I don't have much background and that might have been part of the reason this happened."
Lowe's Xtreme Air Sports, Get Air Hang Time and Jump On It all have liability waivers that have to be signed before anyone is allowed to jump.
Phillips and Bacon say they aren't looking to shut down trampoline parks and that children shouldn't be banned from visiting them. They simply want to educate the public about the actual risks involved with the parks.
"These are not benign injuries, but no one is watching or regulating these places, there is no government oversight," Bacon said. "We are talking to local government officials and state legislators. Our role is to educate people as to what we are seeing."