Treadmill machines can injure small children, warns researcher at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

October 09, 2001

Philadelphia, Pa. -- Add treadmill machines to the list of home exercise equipment that can pose dangers to small children. Plastic surgeons at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia reported on 12 children who suffered hand injuries from the belt of a moving treadmill. Six of the children required surgery, including skin grafting in one case.

"Most parents don't regard treadmill machines as potential hazards," said Benjamin Chang, M.D., a pediatric plastic surgeon at Children's Hospital, and senior author of an article recently published in the Annals of Plastic Surgery. "Injuries to children from stationary bicycles have been much better publicized over the past decade, and manufacturers have modified their designs to make them safer, but treadmills have received less attention," said Dr. Chang.

The children in the study ranged in age from 14 months to 7 years, with a median age of 2.4 years. Most of the children were injured when their hands were caught in the back of the machine where the treadmill belt wraps around the rear roller. Most of the injuries were hand abrasions, some of them equivalent to full-thickness burns in the skin. Half of the children required plastic surgery because scarred skin prevented them from fully extending their fingers.

Frequently the children were injured while an adult was using a treadmill, and the child came behind an exercising parent. In other cases, the children were injured after switching on an unattended machine.

Although there may be design modifications that could improve safety, such as making treadmills harder to start and easier to stop, Dr. Chang says the most practical preventive measure is to keep children away from the equipment. He suggests keeping treadmills in a room that can be locked while not in use. He also advises that adults using the machine be aware of their surroundings, and should not wear headsets. "These injuries are easily preventable, but people need to be aware of the potential safety hazards," he said.
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Dr. Chang is an attending surgeon in Children's Hospital's Division of Plastic Surgery and a specialist in pediatric hand injuries at the Hospital's Sports Medicine and Performance Center. Co-author of the article with Dr. Chang was Christine Carman, M.D., also of The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. The report was published in the Annals of Plastic Surgery, volume 46, pages 15-19.

Founded in 1855 as the nation's first pediatric hospital, The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia is ranked today as the best pediatric hospital in the nation by a comprehensive Child Magazine survey. Its pediatric research program is among the largest in the country, ranking second in National Institutes of Health funding.

Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

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