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Tug-of-war can be a dangerous game, expert warns

It may be a childhood game, but tug-of-war injuries can be serious and lead to permanent consequences.

Edith Rodriguez and Pablo Ocegueda, students in South El Monte High School in South El Monte, Calif., were playing tug-of-war during a lunchtime spirit week activity when their fingers were severed by the rope, CBS station KCBS in Los Angeles reported.

"They wrapped the rope around their hands and somehow the rope when on to snap, I guess it created some extra tension and caused the injuries," Los Angeles County Fire Inspector Brian Riley told KNX 1070.

Students initially cheered when the rope broke, but then quickly realized what happened. According to KTLA, about 40 students were participating in the game.

"They were just both in shock, staring at their hands. They didn't know what to do," Jennifer Jiminez, a freshman at the school told KCBS.

Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center confirmed to that the students were brought there after the incident, and that they underwent surgery last night to reattach their fingers. They currently are in stable condition.

"Loops, knots and other types of 'holdings' -- used to wrap the rope around hands or any part of the body is extremely dangerous -- and can place individuals at risk for finger and hand injuries, including traumatic amputations and joint dislocations," Dr. Robert Glatter, emergency medicine physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, told by email. He was not involved treating the students.

Though he sees more tug-of-war rope burn injuries than amputations, Glatter understands how it could happen.

"When using a rope that is coated or slippery, there is often a tendency to wrap it around ones hand to obtain a better grip. This is actually against the 'rules' which states that the rope should be held with a natural grip, with both palms facing upward with fingers wrapped around the rope," Glatter explained, adding that if you loop your hands around the rope it's harder to let go of it.

These are not the first reported injuries caused by tug-of-war

In 1997, two men lost their left arms during a tug-of-war contest with more than 1,600 participants in Taipei, Taiwan, Reuters reported. Two Colorado boys partially severed their hands during a tug-of-war game between Lutheran High School's senior and junior football players in 2007, KUSA-TV reported.

Glatter said players should never loop their limbs with the rope to get a better grip.

"It is important for a tug-of-war game organizer working with adults or children to carefully review safety issues, and proper techniques with all participants," he said.

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