Tobogganing injuries on the rise in Alberta

With COVID-19 restrictions on social gatherings, sports and fitness classes, many Albertans have found themselves spending more time outdoors. But the increase in winter activities has led to a rise in winter injuries, especially when it comes to tobogganing.

According to Alberta Health Services, hospitals in the Edmonton and Calgary zones have seen a huge jump in tobogganing injuries. From Dec. 11, 2020 to Jan. 7, 2021, there were 380 tobogganing and sledding injury visits to emergency departments and urgent care centres (139 in Edmonton, 241 in Calgary).

That number was 264 for the same period in 2019-2020 (106 in Edmonton, 158 in Calgary).

Also during that period, both of the province’s children’s hospitals saw their cases more than double.

READ MORE: Montreal doctors warn sledding can be dangerous as injuries spike 

The Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton treated 77 patients for tobogganing injuries (versus 32 in 2019-2020) and the Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary treated 122 (57 in 2019-2020).

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“(Stollery staff) said that Parker was the 40th accident with tobogganing that they’d seen that week,” Danielle Bohn told Global News.

Bohn’s eight-year-old son Parker has been sledding more than ever this winter. He broke his left arm on Jan. 10, after hitting an icy jump on an Edmonton hill.

“(Staff) knew immediately… as soon as they saw his arm they said, ‘Let me guess — you were tobogganing today,’” laughed Bohn.

“I do find on almost every shift that I work in the emergency department, I see two or three children who have had a tobogganing injury,” said Dr. Stephen Freedman, an emergency physician at the Alberta Children’s Hospital.

“And a lot of children (were) not wearing helmets, which is also very concerning, because we do occasionally see very severe head injuries in children from tobogganing, whether it be from trees or other children.”

The Injury Prevention Centre (IPC) recommends wearing a ski helmet, but even a bike helmet is better than nothing.

According to the IPC, most tobogganing injuries are typically in arms and legs, in kids aged five to 12.

Historically, adults account for 20 per cent of tobogganing injuries.

“It’s the adults that really get themselves into trouble because often they’re doing crazy things like going to the (ski hill) after hours… doing stupid stuff in the dark with a few drinks,” Don Voaklander told Global News.

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The IPC director advises choosing a hill specifically designated for tobogganing, avoiding icy patches and jumps.

“About half the injuries are when people fly off the sled, and that’s usually from hitting a bump of some kind,” said Voaklander.

He aded that sledding isn’t the only way Albertans are hurting themselves this winter. Though AHS did not have data available, Voaklander suspects falls on ice have increased this year. With seniors’ exercise programs on hold during the pandemic, walking has become one of the few ways older adults can be active.

And one fall can be life-changing.

“As you grow older, you lose some of that dexterity and some of the ways to protect yourself from your fall,” said Voaklander.

“You don’t react as quickly, so you can fall on your hip and fracture a hip or hurt your elbow or maybe even your head.”

Canadian data shows 95 per cent of hip fractures and 40 per cent of nursing home admissions are a direct result of falling.

The IPC recommends taking small steps in good boots or shoes. The centre recommends this website to help choose the safest footwear.

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