The Birmingham area’s new extreme trampoline park, which has drawn thousands of jumpers since its opening six weeks ago, is also creating concern among some members of the local medical community.
Dr. Bob Wolf and Dr. Ken Jaffe, surgeons at Alabama Orthopaedic Center in Homewood, said they are alarmed at the amount and severity of the injuries they have seen among patients who were hurt at AirWalk Trampoline Arena, located off U.S. 280 in the Greystone area.
In the past couple of weeks, Wolf said he has operated on two patients who were injured at the park. One had severe fractures in both legs and another had a severe knee dislocation.
The patients included a healthy, active middle-aged person and a healthy, athletic younger person, he said.
Wolf, who has been practicing since 1999, said he sees a lot of sports injuries, particularly football, but these go beyond what’s typical for contact sports.
“The injuries I have treated are types you would ordinarily see in a severe motor vehicle accident,” Wolf said. “These are devastating, limb-threatening injuries.”
Jaffe said he has personally treated three or four patients with injuries sustained at AirWalk, including sprains and minor fractures. But he and Wolf say they have compared notes with colleagues at other practices who have also seen more significant injuries
“As a physician, I feel it’s almost our obligation to let the public know, there’s another side to this,” said Jaffe, who has been practicing for 25 years.
Jaffe said he wonders if the problem is isolated in the Birmingham area because the park is new, if this is an industrywide issue and if anything can be done to make the park safer.
Case Lawrence, AirWalk’s developer, said there have been a few leg and foot fractures at the facility, and that is true of all trampoline parks across the country.
But, he added, it’s important to remember that there have been almost 20,000 jumpers so far at AirWalk.
The incident rate at AirWalk and his other parks is better than the national rate, which is at 0.02 percent, he said.
“When you have such a large volume of jumpers coming through statistics dictate that you are bound to have injuries,” Lawrence wrote in an email. “But I would posit that it is safe or safer than any other active sport. How many injuries would you project if you had 20,000 people play full court basketball? We make daily efforts to increasingly make the park safer and to train patrons and staff how to use the facility in the safest way.”
Lawrence notes that the set-up of the facility — essentially a floor of trampolines — means there’s no where to fall off, like a typical backyard trampoline.
There’s also a list of rules for jumpers — no double-jumping or gainers, for example — and staff members wearing black-and-white-striped referee shirts monitor the crowd.
The Birmingham area facility, a 16,000-square-foot space located at 7010 Champion Blvd., is outfitted with nearly 8,000 square feet of trampolines, a trampoline dodgeball stadium and Olympic foam pits with more than 25,000 foam cubes.
It is open to jumpers of all ages. Activities include birthday parties, slumber parties, open jump times for everyone and designated jump times for specific ages.
But while supporters of trampoline parks say they provide good exercise and fun, safety concerns are growing as more open around the U.S.
There have been a number of lawsuits in the wake of trampoline park injuries, CNN reported last summer.
In January, a Seattle area trampoline park, which has fought dozens of lawsuits from people who have been injured, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.According to its website, Sky High Sports Bellevue says it will be closed for the immediate future.
There’s also a Facebook page, Think Before You Bounce, which says its mission is to make indoor trampoline parks safer through awareness, regulation and design.
Amid it all, the parks continue to grow in popularity. According to Lawrence, there are nearly 50 trampoline parks currently operating in the U.S., for a total annual revenue of almost $100 million.
He has opened similar parks in Fresno, Calif.; Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; Albuquerque, N.M.; and Richmond, Va.
Later this year, additional parks are planned in Knoxville, Tenn.; Tulsa, Okla.; Baton Rouge, La.; Virginia Beach, Va.; and Greenville, S.C.