Child’s play or health hazard? The dangers of trampolines – and how to make them safer

The ubiquitous garden trampoline looks fun, but orthopaedic surgeons might disagree
The ubiquitous garden trampoline looks fun, but orthopaedic surgeons might disagree - Peter Cade/Getty

Some people say it feels like flying, others love the cardio calorie burn-off, but most folks gleefully agree that repetitive bouncing is a ton of fun. Trampolining is on our radar right now, not just because the World Trampoline Championships are currently taking place in Birmingham, but because the rise of the turbocharged trampoline theme park is on a rocket-fuelled trajectory (there are about 200 such parks in the UK). Plus, it seems that every other garden in the UK has an oversized ‘tramp’ assembled for those more enthusiastic play dates.

Yet there are dangers to throwing yourself around. A recent court case revealed that 11 people broke their backs at the Flip Out indoor adventure park in Chester, with several fracturing their spines after jumping off a 13ft-high tower into a foam-filled pit. The inquiry highlighted 270 incidents in seven weeks between 2016 and 2017. As a result, former directors David Elliot Shuttleworth and Matthew Melling admitted safety failings and have been fined and ordered to do community service.

Liza Jones, being treated by paramedics at Flip Out Chester trampoline park, fractured her spine after jumping into a foam pit from a 13ft high platform
Liza Jones, being treated by paramedics at Flip Out Chester trampoline park, fractured her spine after jumping into a foam pit from a 13ft high platform - Wales News Service

The centre is now under new ownership, and they are transparent about endorsing stringent measures, saying: “The safety of our guests is paramount to the business, and we take all health and safety matters very seriously. There are more than 30 venues operating under the Flip Out name, offering 55 different activities to five million visitors a year. Lessons have been learnt across the indoor activity park sector in the UK as a whole since 2017.”

David Walker, head of road and leisure safety for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), adds: “Like all businesses, trampoline parks must comply with their duties towards staff and customers, and if they don’t, it can lead to prosecution. In 2017, we worked with regulators, trampoline park operators and emergency services to create a realistic minimum safety standard that UK parks could apply to quickly improve operations and safety for both staff and customers.

“From 2018 onwards, in order to be a member of the UKIATP trade body and display the logo, trampoline parks had to declare their compliance with the British standard, in addition to complying with workplace safety laws. We need places where children can be active safely and take risks with some consequences, such as bumps and grazes, not hospitalisation.”

Flip Out in Chester is now under new ownership
Flip Out in Chester is now under new ownership - Wales News Service

It’s a tricky balance – protecting your loved ones from damage while encouraging independence and the forming of personal boundaries. Sabine Coates, a junior doctor in paediatrics at Salisbury District Hospital, says: “We see a number of broken bones and soft-tissue injuries, such as sprains and strains, from trampolining accidents; it’s something that is inevitably going to happen on occasion. Any boisterous play has its risks, like bike riding, skating, and even soft-play. The message should always be to use safety nets, supervise younger children and never allow a child to walk underneath a trampoline. But they are still a great way for children to exercise, be outside and interact with siblings and friends. The benefits outweigh the potential downsides.”

Yet the statistics surrounding trampoline accidents are striking. According to research by Churchill Home Insurance, in 2020, 2.9 million children in the UK sustained injuries on home trampolines.

Julia Cookson, a mother of three, regularly allowed her children, all under eight, to play on their trampoline in the garden. She had a rule that they never use it at the same time, but one day, her four-year-old son climbed on with his older sister. It ended with her son fracturing his leg.

“I was just putting something away in the shed and was distracted for a few minutes,” she recalls. “Then I heard an almighty scream and turned to see my daughter lying across my son. She’d jumped up, causing him to fly into the air and as he crashed down, she fell on top of him. He had a painful fracture to his tibia, the large bone in the lower leg, and was in a cast for five weeks. It was a complete nightmare.”

In the professional world, trampolining is often referred to as an extreme sport, which means it comes with risks. In 2022, research published in the British Medical Journal’s (BMJ) Injury Prevention journal showed that about 55 per cent of all injury-related A&E visits for girls under 14 were from trampolining. For boys, the figure was slightly lower at 38 per cent.

Safety advice recommends that only one child should be on a trampoline at any one time
Safety advice recommends that only one child should be on a trampoline at any one time - Moment RF

The BMJ reports: “Children who use trampoline centres are more likely to be seriously injured and require hospital admission than those who use trampolines at home.” Not surprisingly, parents who are medical professionals often have strong opinions on the subject. One orthopaedic consultant I spoke to said he wouldn’t allow his children to have a trampoline in the garden. “It made me unpopular,” he admitted, “but I’ve seen too many accidents.”

Even adults come to harm. Thomas George, a corporal in the Royal Marines, broke his wrist in three places while trampolining. “I was at a park with my family just before I was about to leave for my basic training,” he says. “I did a backflip, landed awkwardly and snapped my left wrist in three places.” At the time, George says he was in peak condition, probably the most fit he’s ever been, but the injury meant he had to be deferred for a year and a half from his entry into service. “The rigorous training would have been too much for my wrist. I was gutted,” he says.

Today, most public activity centres prioritise safety issues. And since the revelation of the incidents at Flip Out Chester, nobody wants a bad reputation. A statement from Gravity, which owns 15 parks in the UK, says: “We are aware of the news story surrounding trampoline-park safety. Gravity has operated trampoline and adventure parks since 2014. Whilst acknowledging the risks of the activities that our industry provides, our parks have been built and operated with customer safety as the number one priority… We have welcomed millions of customers with a 0.1 per cent injury rate.”

So, what’s the obsession with being propelled into the air at a significant speed? The rise of trampolining as a recognised sport helps. The first World Trampoline Championships were held at the Royal Albert Hall in 1964; and then, at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, the crowds watched in awe at the men’s and women’s competitions, where the Russians took the gold.

Over the next five years, trampoline parks started appearing, often being the birthday-celebration and wet-afternoon activity of choice for a new generation, who wanted thrills as well as exercise. Retailer, whose most popular models are from the JumpPRO range, says it saw a 100 per cent rise in sales during the pandemic, and business is still thriving. Tim McClure, of the trampoline park and activity centre operator AirHop, adds: “Children and parents are looking for exciting and healthier alternatives to digital devices. Trampoline parks like ours offer inventive and exhilarating activities perfectly designed to bring friends and families together.”

These contraptions have come a long way since the squeaky beachside trampolines of our youth, when you paid a quid for a 20-minute jump, and health and safety obligations meant trying not to gash your knee on the rusty coiled springs around the edges. Garden trampolines are now state-of-the-art designs, selling for hundreds of pounds and promising hours of bouncy happiness. Springfree’s top version costs a hefty £1,695 and was invented by Dr Keith Alexander, a dad who wanted to create the world’s safest trampoline.

But when it comes to expertise, perhaps the last word should come from Kat Driscoll, a British trampoline gymnast and a former world number one. “Trampolining is always going to have a danger element to it,” she admits, “so I’d say to anyone, get yourself along to a local club where you can learn skills in a safe environment. Take your time, and don’t attempt anything that feels overly difficult for your body. I love trampolining, it’s dynamic but also elegant. Where else would you get the sensation that you’re defying gravity? It’s incredible.”