Beware of the treadmill!

Parents, beware that awesome new holiday gift that you got.

You know, the treadmill?  The thing you got so that you can run indoors when it’s bitterly cold or when the inversion is awful?

Probably not an ideal use of your new gift...
Probably not an ideal use of your new gift…

(Photo credit to normanack)

That treadmill, which we all want to believe is a great tool for improving health, is a hazard for little hands.  Some of the earlier research on this came from our group almost 10 years ago, when we demonstrated that the 48 injuries that we saw over a 6 year period that almost half of treadmill friction injuries in children required skin grafts.  The children involved in these accidents are typically 3-5 years old, and while the injuries are typically small and limited to the hand surgery is required for half of more.  Further, long-term issues with scarring may complicate the care of these children.

A 2012 publication shows that this is not a uniquely American issue, with similar findings reported in the UK.  A more recent examination of US data looking at all home exercise equipment re-confirmed the specific relevance of treadmills and the impact they have on children under age 4.  Perhaps most importantly, when I speak with parents of children who have sustained a treadmill injury, they simply had no idea that this is a relatively common occurrence.  They weren’t told about it when they were sold the treadmill, nor was information about the risk of treadmills to little hands anywhere in the box.

As a burn surgeon I struggle with these injuries because I believe they are almost entirely preventable with good education, but with bad care they can have devastating functional outcomes.  I’m not going to tell you to haul your treadmill out to the curb if you have a preschooler in your home; that would be a Draconian response to something that is largely manageable.  Remember that for the many treadmill injuries that we see in our clinic every year, there are many, many more treadmills that are safely used in homes.

How can you equip your home for safe treadmill use if you do have a preschooler?

  • If your treadmill has a key that is required for it to work, remove it when you’re not using the treadmill and put it somewhere that little hands can’t get to it.  Trust me, your 3-year-old is smart enough to use the key if they find it.
  • Make sure that your preschooler isn’t nearby when you’re using the treadmill.  Preschoolers are by definition a curious lot, and they don’t necessarily respond to being told not to touch something (sometimes it’s more of an incentive, rather than less, based upon my experience).  About 1/4 of documented injuries in two different studies occurred when a parent was on the treadmill, which means that it’s best to separate the treadmill and your preschooler.
  • The treadmill should be in a location where the operation of it can be supervised OR it should be in a location that can be preschooler-proofed against entry.
  • Be aware!  Reading this was already a first step for you.
  • And finally, we’re here if you need us.