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All-Terrain Vehicle-Related Spinal Injuries on the Rise in Children and Adolescents

Emergency room visits, specifically spinal cord injuries, are becoming increasingly prevalent amongst children and adolescents. Unfortunately, this increase is occurring from those who use all-terrain vehicles, otherwise known as ATVs.  For those of you who are unfamiliar, ATVs are 3 or 4-wheeled motorized vehicles that weigh up to 800 pounds and are popularly used for recreation.

Although ATVs are not common on the streets of Manhattan, I am very familiar with the damage they create. There are thousands of ATV-related injuries amongst children and adolescents each year and reports of children as young as eight being treated for an ATV-related injury in an emergency room.  The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that there are approximately 2.2 million ATV riders under the age of 16.

Countless medical organizations and physicians including myself have recommended that ATVs not be operated by anyone under the age of 16, but legally there is no way to prohibit usage. ATVs have a tendency to flip, making it especially easy for children to sustain spinal fractures from the impact.

A study published in the Journal of Pediatric Orthopedics reinforces their danger, “The injury rate for children from ATV accidents has increased 240% since 1997” and “the spinal injury rate has increased 476% over the same time frame.”  These shocking statistics are just a few of the numerous findings within the medical research community and are only getting worse.

Proper skill in handling these heavy machines must be taken more seriously.  However, even with the vast amount of information and educative resources available, we are still seeing injuries in patients under the age of 16. The reason is unclear, but we know the result. If children and adolescents continue to use these all-terrain vehicles, we will continue to treat these traumatic spinal cord injuries.