In a study from The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, America's foremost paediatric hospital, researchers claim that bicycle handlebar-related abdominal injuries pose a serious health risk to children and result in substantial health care costs. Biomechanical engineers from the hospital have designed a retractable handlebar to cure the perceived problem.

Fit impact-absorbing handlebars on kids bikes, argue US docs

In non-motor vehicle related bicycle crashes, as many as 80 percent of internal organ injuries are associated with handlebar impact, said the hospital’s report. The study is published in the American Medical Association’s September issue of ‘Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine’.

"In one year, more than 1100 children in the United States suffered serious internal organ injuries due to bicycle crashes not involving motor vehicles," said Dr. Flaura Winston, M.D., Ph.D., the study’s lead author and director of TraumaLink, an interdisciplinary paediatric injury control research centre at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

"The majority of these injuries, as many as 900, were due to handlebar impact."

Hospital discharge data from 19 American states for 1997, as well as Children’s Hospital’s Trauma Registry for 1996 to 2000, were analyzed by researchers at Children’s Hospital, the University of Pennsylvania, the Center for Injury Research and Control at the University of Pittsburgh, and the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation.

"Injuries to children, such as abdominal or pelvic organ injury, result in lengthy hospital stays ranging from three to 47 days," claims the report.

"Parents and caregivers lose work to care for a child recovering from serious injury. In extreme cases, children who are permanently disabled have reduced work capacity as adults. All these are considered when determining societal healthcare costs."

Estimated 1997 costs from bicycle handlebar-related injuries included $9.6 million in hospital charges, $10.0 million in lifetime medical costs, $11.5 million in lifetime productivity losses and $503.9 million in long-term disability costs.

Children’s Hospital researchers previously identified the circumstances and mechanism of injury from bicycle handlebars. In that study, published in ‘Pediatrics’ in 1998, all study participants were riding at low speed when something occurred to make them lose control of their bicycle and fall. The front wheel rotated into a plane perpendicular to the child’s body. The child landed on the end of the handlebar, resulting in serious abdominal or pelvic organ injuries.

A retractable handlebar that absorbs the energy of the handlebar impact may be the solution to this injury mechanism, claims the hospital’s report.

Biomechanical engineers at Children’s Hospital describe this handlebar design in a paper published in November 2001 in ‘Accident Analysis and Prevention.’

"With this prototype, we proved that it is feasible to create an energy-absorbing handlebar which will likely prevent serious handlebar injuries," said Dr. Winston.

"It’s time to incorporate safer handlebars into the design of the bicycle."

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