The Dangers of Treadmills for Kids: Hazel’s Story
The new year brings resolutions, and at the top of many lists are dieting and exercising. But, buying a treadmill to reach your goal comes with risks. It’s something 3-year-old Hazel Beckman’s family knows far too well.
In October 2021, the Beckman family had just finished dinner at their home in State College, Pennsylvania. Dad Matt Beckman was busy helping their older daughter, 10-year-old Eden, practice the xylophone. Mom Sarah was working on her computer. That’s when she heard what she describes as a “bloody murder scream” from the basement. It was Hazel. Sarah Beckman raced down the steps toward the loud cry, where she found Hazel in tears. She and her 6-year-old brother, Jack, had turned on the family’s treadmill to a high speed. Hazel had been close behind the treadmill, rolling on her belly on a cylinder-shaped bolster used for physical therapy, when her arm accidentally rolled under the fast-moving treadmill and became stuck. Jack had to pull Hazel’s arm out from under the treadmill. The incident left Hazel with a 4-inch-long, ¼-inch-deep friction burn on her left forearm. Beckman described the burn as a “leathery layer of white.” “There was no blood,” Beckman says. “The treadmill removed everything that could bleed. It had taken up all the skin. If Jack wasn’t there to help, Hazel’s burn could have been far worse. He was very brave.”
A nurse at a nearby urgent care center told Beckman to apply an over-the-counter antibiotic ointment to Hazel’s burn and bandage it up. However, after two days, the burn wasn’t healing. Hazel’s pediatrician referred them to a local emergency room. While there, the care team recommended that Hazel be treated at a burn center. The family embarked on the three-hour drive to the Pediatric Burn Center at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore. There, Hazel was diagnosed with a second-to-third degree burn, which is on the more severe side of the burn categorization spectrum. Her care team watched the burn on an outpatient basis from week to week to ensure no infection developed and that it was healing properly. “Her 3-year-old body is generating some significant scar tissue,” Beckman says. “She is healing on her own.”
“Since the start of the pandemic, we have seen an increasing number of treadmill burns such as the one Hazel experienced,” says Alejandro Garcia, M.D., director of the pediatric burn program at the Children’s Center. “Most of the injuries have been caused by children playing on the treadmills, which leads to a friction burn caused by the speed and movement of the conveyor belt. A burn can happen extremely fast.”
Hazel never needed a skin graft, but months later she still has to wear a bandage to cover the developing scar. She now dons a colorful compression sleeve on her forearm for 23 hours each day to protect her scar, and she will continue wearing it for 18 months or longer.
Along with friction burns, treadmills can lead to injuries like broken bones or sprains. To be safe, Garcia recommends unplugging treadmills when not in use or disabling them by pulling out the safety key.
The Beckmans now ensure their treadmill is off by removing the safety key. “I didn’t even know the kids were playing with the treadmill — it’s so high-tech and quiet,” Beckman says. “I have huge mom guilt that this happened, and I don’t want this to happen to other families.” The incident inspired the Beckman family to help other pediatric patients in similar situations at the Pediatric Burn Center by collecting toys like fidget spinners and play dough to bring them happiness as they recover.
“An injury from a treadmill can happen to any child, and it only takes a split second,” says Garcia. As more families are buying treadmills in the new year, Garcia and other Children’s Center experts recommend taking steps now to protect kids from these dangers, and to prevent friction burns and other injuries.