This is your brain in a helmet

The lady in the cubbyhole next to me lives on a steep, winding road, and just told me a story about finding a cyclist lodged under a guardrail one weekend. She says a lot of cyclists zoom down the hills but on this day the road was not obviously wet, but just damp enough. She took in his super light bike, and when he came back to claim it, he had his arm in a sling with a broken clavicle, and stitches across his brow. He had been wearing a helmet, so he may have avoided even worse injury to his noggin. Or maybe not.

The value of wearing helmets is an ongoing debate among bicyclists and even motorcyclists. After my encounter with a bus – in which my head hit the curb hard –  I can’t help but notice how many of my fellow commuters don’t wear helmets. My replacement bike helmet is made by Bern, a manufacturer with the stated goal of providing protective “lids” for active sports including snow skiing, skating, snowboarding, water skiing and bicycling. It feels very safe, and they even have a $200 carbon fiber model, which is presumably safer.

But in Ski Helmet Use Isn’t Reducing Brain Injuries, the Times asks whether that protection is giving athletes a false sense of security.

… Experts say helmets have reduced the numbers of less serious head injuries, like scalp lacerations, by 30 percent to 50 percent, … . But growing evidence indicates that helmets do not prevent some more serious injuries, like the tearing of delicate brain tissue, said Jasper Shealy, a professor emeritus at Rochester Institute of Technology.

Shealy, who has been studying snow-sports-related injuries at Sugarbush resort in Vermont for more than 30 years, said that could be because those injuries typically involve a rotational component that today’s helmets cannot mitigate. He said his research had not found any decline in what he called P.S.H.I.’s, for potentially serious head injuries, a classification that includes concussion, skull fracture, closed head injury, traumatic brain injury and death by head injury. …

“The helmet does a very good job at protecting against skull lacerations and skull fractures, but it doesn’t seem to have much effect on concussions or T.B.I.’s,” Shealy said, referring to traumatic brain injuries. “Our guess is that this is due to the fact that those injuries are occurring at such a high magnitude of energy that they overwhelm what a helmet can do for you.” …

“There’s no 100 percent prevention of brain injury,” said Alan Weintraub, the medical director of the brain injury program at Craig Hospital in Englewood, Colo. “Because the more the head and brain are protected, the more risks people take, the more velocities happen with those risks and the more velocities are transmitted to the skull and brain.”

The same questions are being asked about the NFL. Better helmet designs and better pads seemed to coincide with a more reckless style of play, the result being the NFL’s concussion scandal.


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2 responses to “This is your brain in a helmet”

  1. ~flowerchild~ says :

    At the dialysis clinic where I get hemo three times a week, we patients refer to all motorcyclists and bike riders who do not wear helmets as potential kidney donors.



  2. Nancy L. Seibel says :

    Avoiding lacerations and fractures is a good & worthwhile thing but as this article points out, there’s only so much a helmet can do. It can’t protect you from concussion for example. I usually wear one on the “it can’t hurt” theory but I don’t consider a helmet a necessity.


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