The shoes are called “Heelys.” They’re sneakers, but with wheel sockets in each heel. The shoes can be used for walking, but then the wheels pop out when the kids shift their weight, letting them roll around like they’re on skates. These shoes are so popular that they’re sold in over 70 countries and the company that makes them just landed on Business Week’s annual list of fastest growing companies.
But Heelys are dangerous! According to MSNBC, doctors from Ireland to Singapore have reported an increasing number of roller shoe injuries, including broken wrists, arms, and ankles. Even dislocated elbows and cracked skulls. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, there were over 16-hundred roller-shoe injuries and one death reported last year alone. That’s because balancing on the wheels can be tricky, especially for kids just learning how to use them. And studies show that most injuries happen when kids fall backwards while trying to transfer their body weight.
Dr. Dominic Catanese is a foot specialist at Montefiore Medical Center in New York and he says balancing on the heels can also strain feet and Achilles tendons. Also, all it takes to send your kid flying is a tiny piece of gravel to get caught in the wheel and stop it from turning. The manufacturer of Heelys did a study of their own, and said that their shoes have a safer injury rate than skateboarding, inline skating, and even swimming. Still, schools and malls across the country are banning Heelys from the premises. They’re afraid of kids injuring themselves on the property and parents suing.
So how can you protect your kids? If they have shoes with wheels, make sure you review all the safety information. Also, just like with bikes and skateboards, experts recommend that kids on wheeled shoes should wear helmets, wrist protectors, and knee and elbow pads.