There’s definitely something thrilling about standing high above the ground, hooking oneself onto a pulley and launching off the edge of safety, then soaring through the air on a steel cable. It’s called zip lining.
A new study finds, as the adventure sport’s popularity has increased, so have associated injuries requiring treatment at an emergency room.
Researchers found the injury rate from zip lines rose by more than 50 percent between 2009 and 2012, with kids 9 and under accounting for 45 percent of the injuries.
"One of the things that really struck us about this study is how serious the injuries were. Almost 50 percent of them were fractures or broken bones, and over 10 percent actually had to be admitted to the hospital," said Tracy Mehan of Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, who led the study.
"These are much higher and more serious injuries than we see with a lot of studies, and it shows us that this activity is much more like an adventure sport," Mehan told NBC News.
Mehan and her team looked at a national database of emergency room visits. They found that since 1997, close to 17,000 people have been injured badly enough from zip line activities to need care from an emergency room.
There were not enough annual cases until 2009 — when zip lines really began to be popular — to put a good, solid rate on the number of injuries.
"Seventy percent of them were in the last four years, which shows us that this is a growing trend," Mehan said. "In fact, in 2012 alone, there were over 3,600 injuries, which was about 10 a day."
What was once an adventure only found in a remote part of the world has become big business in rural areas and suburbs throughout the country. If you have the space, you can even buy a kit and assemble a zip line in your own backyard. What could possibly go wrong?
"In 2001 there were about 10 commercial zip line outfits in the United States," Mehan said. "By 2012 this had grown to over 200. And when you add in all of the publicly accessible zip lines that you see now, it's over 13,000."
Most of the injuries happened when people fell off or crashed into something like a tree or a zip line structure.
"The injuries really happen when you fell off the zip line from a high height, or when you went careening into a tree at a high speed or a support structure and had a collision. Those types of injuries are very serious," she said.
"The most common injury by far that we see are broken bones. That was almost 50 percent of our injuries. Other injuries can be bruises, sprains and strains, or concussions."
Head injuries account for 7 percent of the hospital visits says Mehan, and wearing a helmet doesn’t guarantee your head will be protected. A fall from a short height can damage the head and neck, even with a helmet.
While zip line popularity may be increasing, safety standards are pretty much non- existent says Mehan.
"I think a lot of families assume that if there is a zip line out there, that it is following industry safety standards and it's being kept up and maintained in a way that is safe, but that's not always the case," she said.
"Not a lot of states actually have standards in place. Some do, some don't, and even among those that do, it can even vary among jurisdiction," she added.
"We would like to see one universal set of safety standards adopted by each state."
When 12-year-old, Bonnie Sanders Burney, fell to her death in a zip line accident in North Carolina this year, the state’s General Assembly quickly passed a law requiring research for possible regulations. While some states have codified regulations, others allow operators of zip lines and high ropes courses to self-regulate.
Mehan and her team hope the information from this study will spur a tougher look at creating a national code of safety regulations pertaining to zip lines.
Source: Maggie Fox and Erika Edwards, http://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/zipline-injuries-soar-study-finds-n438876