While tobogganing is a beloved pastime and rite of passage for many Canadians, only motorsports results in more serious spine and head injuries.
Research by Parachute, a national charitable organization dedicated to injury prevention, found tobogganing and sledding result in 37.7 catastrophic injuries – which it defines as debilitating injuries – out of 100,000 participants.
Only snowmobiling, driving and quadding result in more catastrophic injuries per 100,000 participants, says Parachute.
A 2008 study conducted by Dr. Charles Tator for ThinkFirst Canada – which is now part of Parachute – found half of catastrophic injuries in sledders were to the head, and 22.5 per cent were to the spine.
Where information was available, 93 per cent of the cases of catastrophic injury did not involve supervision.
Tina Skjonsby-McKinnon, a public health nurse with the Sudbury and District Health Unit, said tobogganing is a great form of outdoor play, but it should be practised safely.
The health unit recommends all sledders wear helmets.
“That will greatly reduce their chances of a head injury,” Skjonsby-McKinnon said.
After the City of Greater Sudbury closed a popular hill at Queen's Athletic Field to sledding – due to a lawsuit after a person was injured – the city shared a number of safety tips for sledders.
Those include ensuring a hill is free of hazards – such as trees, rocks and bumps – making sure the hill is not too steep, ensuring the toboggan is in good condition, and ensuring participants are dressed warmly, to avoid frostbite and hypothermia.