Some toddlers have been seriously injured after getting fingers caught in the wheel spokes and chain sprockets of stationary bikes, rowers, cross-country ski machines, and stair climbers. Injuries have included finger amputations, fractures, and the cutting of arteries, nerves, tendons, and muscles.
Leon S. Benson, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon at Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago, who has studied the injuries, says you don't need to get rid of the machines to make them safe -- just be smarter when using them. He suggests parents not use the equipment with toddlers in the room. "In my house, we lock the stuff up," he says. "Adult supervision is not always an effective deterrent."
In one case he studied, an orthopedic surgeon riding a stationary bike shouted a warning when a toddler approached the bike. The doctor quickly got off, but the child put his hand in the spokes while the wheel was coasting to a stop, Dr. Benson says. Nerves and tendons in one finger were damaged.
"Maybe a five-year-old will respond," he says, "but two- or three-year-olds are doing their own thing. They have an irresistible curiosity."