It's hard to be surprised by TikTok challenges these days. Whether the task involves eating frozen honey or putting one's balance to the test, safety is often a major concern when it comes to performing these stunts. One such example is the current milk crate challenge, which has apparently caused some pretty gruesome injuries in people who have unsuccessfully tried to pull it off.
What is the milk crate challenge you ask? Well, it involves stacking plastic milk crates in a pyramid-shaped staircase before attempting to walk from one side to the other — without the creation falling apart. And while the #MilkCrateChallenge had racked up nearly 10 million views on TikTok as of Tuesday afternoon, the viral video platform appears to have removed the hashtag from its platform, according to a report Wednesday from the New York Post. In a statement to Fast Company, TikTok said the platform "prohibits content that promotes or glorifies dangerous acts."
"We encourage everyone to exercise caution in their behavior whether online or off," added TikTok in its statement to Fast Company.
Although a standard rigid milk crate can hold about 40 pounds, according to the shipping and supplies company Uline, they're not meant to be a sturdy surface for walking. Add to the mix that many people are placing their milk crate pyramids on uneasy grounds, such as grass, it's (arguably) a recipe for disaster.
Why Is the Milk Crate Challenge So Dangerous?
It might seem obvious, but the risk for orthopedic injuries — let alone damage to any other body part — is high when it comes to the trend. "There are some obvious drawbacks to attempting this challenge, but most commonly I'd be worried about FOOSH (fall on outstretched hand) injuries," says Mitch Starkman, MScPT, physiotherapist and co-owner of Synergy Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation in Toronto. "When we fall, our body's natural tendency is to try and catch itself. Often subconsciously, we'll put our arms out in front to catch ourselves from tumbling. The trouble is, our arms and hands were not built to be pole vaults, and so they can go 'snap, crackle and pop,'" says Starkman, noting that most often with these types of falls, "you can expect a broken wrist or dislocated shoulder." (Related: How Weak Ankles and Ankle Mobility Affect the Rest of Your Body)
Although we regulate milk, we can't recommend you try that. Perhaps enjoy a nice glass of 2% and return all those crates to the grocery store?
— U.S. FDA (@US_FDA) August 23, 2021
The risk of broken bones and the like is especially possible if you, say, attempt the milk crate challenge on a harder surface (vs. grass). "Falling in an uncontrolled manner onto concrete can lead to trauma including broken bones, injury to muscles/tendons/ligaments, and internal organ trauma," adds Siddharth Tambar, M.D., a board-certified rheumatologist with Chicago Arthritis and Regenerative Medicine.
Any injuries you sustain (including broken bones and dislocated joints) can also have long-term ramifications, notes Starkman. "Our bodies are amazing, but we're not quite wolverines — they don't heal perfectly," says Starkman. "Old fracture sites are often more likely to re-fracture than an uninjured one."
"If your fall leads to a significant injury, chronic damage to that area can last long-term," adds Dr. Tambar. "Most commonly, that can lead to chronic pain and reduced function if the injury is significant." (Check out more common bone and joint problems for active women.)
Can the Milk Crate Challenge Be Done Safely?
Is there any way to try the challenge out safely? In short, not really. "Safe is a relative word for this sort of activity," says Dr. Tambar. "Given the crates' unstable climbing surface, wear appropriate footwear that allows you to maintain your balance (e.g. sneakers). In addition, knowing that most people will fall when doing this, you are better off falling onto grass or other softer surfaces, like a foam mat, rather than harder ones. While grass may not be a level surface, at least when you fall, you won't be hitting the hard concrete. It's a trade-off between an uneven surface versus a more impactful one."
"The softer the better," adds Starkman, recommending protective gear, such as wrist guards, knee pads, and elbow pads, along with a helmet, as your safest bet if you feel absolutely compelled to give this challenge a go.
What Are Some Alternative Options?
If you do want to test your balance — albeit in a safer and more controlled way — the pros recommend dynamic activities, such as yoga, Pilates, and machine-based weight lifting, all of which can help increase your range of motion, mobility, and coordination. As Starkman notes, "Balance is super important, and there are plenty of easy ways to improve it. We definitely don't need this challenge… although I can see how it would give your balance a run for your money." (You can also try this total-body mobility workout to keep you injury-free for life.)