Watch Out! Injuries Common on Memorial Day

An X-ray of a skull. (Image credit: stock.xchng)

Holidays aren't always fun and games. They also present some rather apparent opportunities for children to get hurt — from burning themselves on the barbecue on Memorial Day to sticking themselves with carving knives on Halloween or ingesting sharp decorations on Christmas.

But on major holidays, children are more likely to suffer injuries from everyday activities, such as playing football, than they are to be victims of holiday-specific pitfalls, a new study reveals. Labor Day and Memorial Day are the top two, likely because they are often celebrated outdoors and people are more likely to take part in physical activities, the researchers ay.

Parents should be wary of both routine and out-of-the-ordinary activities on a holiday weekend, the scientists write in the May issue of the journal Pediatrics.

Boys get hurt more

The researchers collected childhood-related injury information from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, a nationally representative sample of 98 U.S. hospital emergency departments.

They looked at records from 1997 through 2006 over eight holidays: New Year's, Easter, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. They included injuries occurring in a five-day period around each holiday (two days before and two days after, as well as the holiday itself). The thinking was that people don't always celebrate a holiday on the day itself, or they might hold festivities over multiple days.

An estimated 5,710,999 injuries related to holidays occurred over the nine-year period. After Labor Day and Memorial Day, the runners up for the most injuries were the Fourth of July and Halloween. Christmas had the least number of injuries.

Boys suffered from most of the injuries (62 percent), followed by children under 5 (29 percent of injuries). The most common type of injuries were lacerations (29.2 percent), and the most injured body parts were the face (15.7 percent), and the fingers and hands (15.5 percent).

Most of the injuries did not require a hospital stay, and only 0.03 percent were fatal (most commonly caused by drowning).

Dangers lurking in the home

Close to half of the injuries (41.6 percent) were sports or recreation related. About 20 percent were "home structure" related, including injuries from doors and countertops, and about 16 percent were related to home furnishings, including chairs and tables.

Only a small portion of injuries were from activities that might be considered specific for the holiday. For instance, just 2.9 percent of injuries occurring around the Fourth of July were related to fireworks, while 8.6 were related to riding bicycles. Similarly, ingestion-related injuries around Christmas accounted for just 1.5 percent of injuries on this holiday, while the category of injuries related to stairs, ramps, landings and floors accounted for 11.6 percent.

Those aged 15 to 19, sustained the more injuries on New Year's than younger children, perhaps because adolescents in this group engage in more adult celebrations on this holiday, the researchers say.

The study most likely underestimated injuries on all fronts, because it didn't include less serious injuries that might have been treated outside an emergency room, the scientists note. Also, the database they used didn't include car crashes and other car-related injuries.

The work was conducted by researchers at the Center for Injury Research and Policy in Columbus, Ohio, and Ohio State University.

Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.