Mechanical bull with soft pink bumber and black padding

Mechanical bulls at parties are causing severe and long-lasting head injuries in children at alarming rates, prompting leaders at Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital to urge caution around the device.

In the last few years, 80% of children brought to Children's Hospital for mechanical bull injuries were found to have traumatic brain injuries, most of whom required immediate neurosurgical intervention. Other types of injuries have included fractured skull, facial injuries, and extremity fractures.

The hospital now sees at least 1-2 children per month who have been injured by a mechanical bull.

“The unpredictable movements and sudden jerks of mechanical bulls pose a severe and potentially life-altering danger to children who are too close to the action,” said Tanya Minasian, DO, FACS, FAAP, a pediatric neurosurgeon at Loma Linda University Children's Hospital.

Minasian said approximately 70% of injuries in children from a mechanical bull are caused by a direct hit while the child is standing or walking nearby. Slightly less common are the injuries when a child is thrown off the mechanical bull.

Long-term consequences of brain injuries include memory issues, severe headaches, nausea, seizures, and possible learning disabilities, to name a few. Rehabilitation for these patients is intensive, involving physical, occupational, and speech therapies, sometimes extending over months and years. “Even a mild brain injury can disrupt the normal processes of a child’s developing brain, posing a threat to their future cognitive outcome,” Minasian said.

Minasian and the pediatric trauma team at LLUCH urge parents and supervising adults around mechanical bulls to prioritize safety by implementing strict precautions. Designating an adult who will manage the bull's operation, keeping children away from the active area, and enforcing safety requirements such as helmets for riders is strongly recommended. She also suggests padded floor mats and installing barriers or safety nets around the mechanical bull to create an extra layer of protection.

 Moreover, she emphasizes the need for increased awareness about the potential dangers associated with this popular party activity.

“A child’s birthday party should be fun and safe for everyone. Risking a serious brain injury in a child and a potentially devastating outcome is not worth it,” Minasian said.