When my kids first told me that hoverboards were all the rage this Christmas season, I frankly did not know what they were talking about. What came to mind was Marty McFly trying to escape his assailants in "Back to the Future II." However, while on Orthopaedic trauma call Christmas night at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, I quickly learned what this new hoverboard phenomenon was.
Unfortunately, I discovered that it was less of a phenomenon and more of an "epidemic." That night, my Orthopaedic team and partners in the emergency department evaluated a number of patients of all age groups presenting with falls off of hoverboards resulting in a variety of fractures, some even requiring surgery.
Because of this onslaught of Orthopedic injuries, I did some quick research. Hoverboards were indeed a very popular Christmas gift this season. They range in cost from $300 to $1800. They are similar to a Segway but without the upright handlebar for support. But unlike Segways, they can accelerate quite quickly, reaching top speeds of 2mph. Riding these hoverboards requires balancing oneself followed by accelerating, decelerating, and turning based upon the pressure applied by ones' feet. However, if not prepared or unfamiliar with riding, these hoverboards can accelerate very quickly resulting in the rider falling forcefully. They have also been in the news because of catastrophic battery fires.
From an Orthopedic perspective, falling off of these hoverboards can result in a number of injuries including bruises, contusions, dislocations and even fractures. Christmas night alone we witnessed displaced fractures of the wrist, shoulder, ankle, and hip. For this reason, great care should be taken in riding these devices.
Protective equipment should also be worn. Anyone trying a hoverboard for the first time should have a spotter — someone standing next to you offering support, and in the event of a fall, catch you. If one is particularly susceptible to a fracture based on their age or bone health, they should consider avoiding riding these boards altogether. Lastly, hoverboards should not be ridden on the street, and novice riders should avoid riding outside where a catastrophic injury could occur with a moving vehicle.
Asif Ilyas, MD, FACS is a Hand, Wrist and Orthopaedic Trauma and Fracture Care Surgeon at Rothman Institute. He is an Associate Professor of Orthopedic Surgery at the Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Jefferson, and a member of the Orthopaedic Trauma service at the Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.