Indoor trampoline parks are springing up all over. They feature huge trampolines divided into sections for individual bouncers. Most offer other activities, like pits filled with foam cubes to jump into and trampoline basketball courts. Sounds like the perfect place to take cooped-up kids on a rainy Saturday when they’re bouncing off the walls, right?

Unfortunately, more and more jumpers are winding up in the emergency room — many with broken bones and other severe injuries. One person died after breaking his neck at a trampoline park.

If your kids are begging to bounce, here’s what you need to know before you say yes.

An extreme sport in disguise

Bouncing on a trampoline so easy a little kid can do it. For that reason, it seems safer than it is. Some parks’ websites even refer to trampoline jumping as “inherently dangerous.” Most parks require participants or their parents to sign liability waivers.

The biggest problem: collisions. “Most injuries happen when more than one person is using a trampoline,” says Gary Smith, MD, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. At indoor parks, many people are often jumping at once.” A small child is especially vulnerable if he’s bouncing near big kids or adults who could lose control and land on him.

Jumping at a trampoline park is at least as dangerous as full-contact football, downhill skiing and snowboarding according to preliminary research by Think Before You Bounce. This non-profit group’s mission is to make trampoline parks safer through regulation, awareness and design. According to founder Thomas Paper, you’re 200 to 300 times more likely to get hurt at a trampoline park than on a roller coaster.

Lack of regulation

Unlike amusement parks, most trampoline parks are not regulated. “The regulations at trampoline parks are spotty,” says Paper.

Recently the International Association of Trampoline Parks (IATP), a trade organization of park owners, helped to develop international safety standards for trampoline parks. But the standards are voluntary. One exception: Arizona is the first and only state to pass legislation to regulate trampoline parks.

Even if a park follows safety standards, that doesn’t mean trampolining is risk free. "I don't think safety is something you could ever guarantee in a participatory activity,” says Jeff Platt, chairman of IATP.

Look before you leap

That said, you can take steps to help ensure an outing to a trampoline park won’t end in disaster.

“If you decide to go,” says Smith, “follow all of the park’s rules and obey instructions from staff members.”

Tour the park to make sure the following safety precautions are in place. If you can’t tell, ask.

  • Jumpers should receive instructions for safe bouncing before hopping on a trampoline.
  • There should be clearly posted rules that prohibit roughhousing, double-bouncing (when two kids land close to each other at the same time) or clothing that could be dangerous, such as belt buckles and studs, and loose objects like key chains. If these rules aren’t being enforced, leave.
  • Trampolines shouldn’t be crowded. They should be divided into clearly marked 6-foot-by-10-foot areas. Only one person at a time should be allowed to bounce in each area.
  • There should be numerous adults, court monitors or referees watching at all times.
  • Younger kids should not be jumping with older ones. They should be separated by height and weight. Children under 6 should not be allowed on trampolines.
  • Padding should completely cover all trampoline springs.
  • There should be system of nets below trampolines.
  • If the park has a foam pit, it should have a trampoline bed underneath it.
  • Staff should be trained and certified in first aid and CPR.

Says Platt, “If a trampoline park follows the guidelines and is operating within those guidelines, and if guests are following the rules, then the chance of injury has been reduced.”

Still, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Association of Orthopedic Surgeons both advise against recreational trampoline jumping anywhere — including at home and at parks.