On Your Health

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The Science of Helmets

Helmets are a necessary accessory for many recreational activities and sports, but it’s no secret that people don’t like to wear them. Whether it’s to look cool, for comfort or just not seeing the point, young children, teenagers and adults alike often don’t want to wear helmets.

However, helmets are essential in preventing traumatic brain injuries caused by impact. Activities such as riding a bike or scooter, skateboarding, playing a contact sport, rock climbing, riding a horse or driving a motorcycle can all result in head injuries. That’s why it’s so important to always wear a helmet when taking part in a potentially dangerous activity.

Why wear a helmet?

According to Reuters, there were 900 deaths and an estimated 494,000 emergency room visits in the U.S. in 2013 due to bicycle-related injuries. Researchers from the same study found that people wearing helmets reduced their risk of severe traumatic brain injury by 52 percent and their risk of death by 44 percent.

Riding a bicycle is just one activity that puts participants at risk of brain injury. Helmets are 37 percent effective in preventing motorcycle deaths and 67 percent effective in preventing brain injuries caused by motorcycle accidents. Furthermore, the American Academy of Neurology states that football helmets reduce the risk of skull fracture by 60 to 70 percent and reduce focal brain tissue bruising by 70 to 80 percent.

Many people doubt the efficacy of helmets because they can’t guarantee protection from brain trauma or prevent concussions. However, research shows that helmets can significantly reduce the severity of injuries sustained from head trauma.

Did you know? The first helmets were used by Assyrian soldiers in 900 B.C., and they were made of thick leather and bronze to protect the head from blunt objects, swords and arrows during combat.

How do helmets work?

A helmet has a hard, plastic shell on the outside and foam on the inside. If you hit your head, the materials in your helmet will help to dissipate the force and energy of the impact, which reduces the force applied to the skull.

The foam works to cushion the blow to the head, while the smooth, plastic outer shell allows your head to safely skid across the surface of impact without jerking your neck. Essentially, if you do hit your head, your helmet will take the brunt of the impact, reducing the amount of energy that collides with your head.

Frequently asked questions about helmets

Do helmets prevent concussions?

No helmet is concussion-proof. A concussion is the result of internal jostling of the brain, so a helmet cannot prevent a concussion from happening. This has led many to believe that helmets are ineffective. However, a helmet can reduce the amount of force applied to the brain and protect against severe cuts, skull fractures and broken facial bones. This can reduce the severity of a concussion and prevent more serious traumatic brain injuries from occurring.

Are there different kinds of helmets for different activities?

There are different kinds of helmets designed for different activities that could result in head impact. While there are multi-function helmets, you should check the manufacturer’s instructions to make sure you are using the proper helmet for your sport or activity. A football helmet is specifically designed to protect the head and face during a tackle, while a bicycle helmet is designed to protect the skull in case of a fall. If you use the wrong kind of helmet, you may decrease its efficacy to prevent injury.

Is fit important in a helmet and what should I look for?

Fit is definitely important when it comes to helmets. Your helmet should be snug, but not too tight, so that it doesn’t shift as you move. Your helmet should be buckled or fastened to ensure it doesn’t fall off or move upon impact. The chin strap should be buckled at all times and tight against your chin, so the helmet cannot jostle around.

How can I get my child to wear a helmet?

Getting your children to wear a helmet can be tough, especially if their friends don’t wear them. Be firm. There is never a time when it’s okay for your child to participate in activities that could result in traumatic brain injury without a helmet on. Be clear and consistent that if they won’t wear a helmet, they cannot participate in impact activities. Make sure you and your spouse are a united front so that your child is getting the same message with both parents. Allow them to pick out a fun style helmet so they are excited to wear it and feel confident.

Always wear a helmet to help reduce the severity of traumatic brain injuries. If you or a loved one sustain a brain injury, INTEGRIS Jim Thorpe Rehabilitation can help you every step of the way.