Why Doctors Are Calling Out The Viral Milk Crate Challenge

Urging friends to try silly stunts seems to be part of the human condition. It starts with the double-dog dares on the playground and escalates into adulthood with college pranks and party games involving baby-food tasting and toilet-paper wedding gowns. (Eighty years ago, the big fad on campuses was swallowing live goldfish, per Smithsonian.) People are even making a nice living off their willingness to try anything: Just look at the success of "Jackass" and "Impractical Jokers." 

Thanks to social media, weird challenges are capable of going viral within days, if not hours. At their best, they're harmless and even funny, like the mannequin challenge where people stood immobile in groups. Some got annoying really fast, like the water bottle flipping challenge that many schools had to ban (via the Independent). At their worst, they can be risky, like eating a spoonful of dry cinnamon or a fiery ghost pepper. They can even be downright life-threatening, like the horrifying fire challenge in which kids poured rubbing alcohol on their skin and then lit it on fire.

Now add to that list the newly viral milk crate challenge. The stunt involves stacking plastic milk crates into a triangular stair formation and then trying to climb on them. The unsteadiness of the crates makes it almost impossible to do without falling. It may seem funny to watch, but the reality is a lot more serious.

The risks of climbing milk crates aren't worth it

A TikTok video of people falling off a pyramid of milk crates drew 5 million views in just one day, and people are reposting the videos to their own social media in hopes of driving more traffic to their pages. But behind the views and likes are very real people with very real injuries. 

New York-based orthopedic surgeon Shawn Anthony, M.D., told The Washington Post that doctors across the country are reporting an uptick in cases of patients with dislocated shoulders, broken ribs and wrists, spinal injuries, and rotator-cuff damage from falling off milk crate stacks. The stunt, he explained, is "perhaps even worse than falling off a ladder. It's very difficult to brace yourself from the falls I've seen in these videos. They're putting their joints at an even higher risk for injury."

Doctors like Anthony are getting frustrated by the milk crate challenge because it's an unnecessary risk. With the resurgence in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations, doctors, nurses, and paramedics are overworked enough without having to treat patients who deliberately set out to get hurt.

The FDA has a word of advice for anyone still tempted to take the milk crate challenge. After Conan O'Brien joked on Twitter about getting FDA approval for the stunt, the agency tweeted back, "Although we regulate milk, we can't recommend you do that. Perhaps enjoy a nice glass of 2% and returning your crates to the grocery store?"