Increased helmet use in alpine sports fails to reduce risk of traumatic brain injury

June 14, 2018, Elsevier

Head injury is the leading cause of death and catastrophic injury among skiers and snowboarders and accounts for three to 15 percent of winter sports-related injuries. Helmet use is increasingly encouraged at ski resorts, however, there have been little data collected on the degree to which ski helmet use prevents traumatic brain injury (TBI) and other types of head injury (OTHI). A new study published in Wilderness & Environmental Medicine confirms that helmets are generally effective in protecting skiers and snowboarders from head injuries, but questions their effect in reducing traumatic brain injury, especially concussion.

Ski helmets are designed to protect the head from penetration and to deform upon impact to absorb impact energy and reduce head acceleration. "Sport helmet effectiveness in preventing TBI has been repeatedly questioned. This study assesses the effect of helmet use on the risk of TBI and OTHI in alpine sports," explained Nicolas Bailly, Ph.D., of the Laboratoire de recherche en imagerie et orthopédie, Centre de recherche de l'HSCM, Montréal, Québec, Canada, who led the study.

In France, a growing awareness of and improvements in the comfort and weight of helmets have resulted in a significant increase in child helmet use to 97 percent in 2014 and an increase in adult helmet use from nine percent in 2005 to 59 percent in 2014.

Investigators assessed the effect of helmet use in 30 French ski resorts between 2012 and 2014. Interviews were also conducted on the slopes with people without injuries. Two sets of cases (1,425 participants with TBI and 1,386 with OTHI) were compared with two sets of controls (2,145 participants without and 40,288 with an injury to another part of the body).

Using participants without injury as control, investigators found that helmet wearers were less likely to sustain any head injury. Using participants with an injury to another part of the body as control, the risk of OTHI was lower among helmet wearers. However, no significant reduction was found in the risk of TBI.

These case control studies led to several key findings:

  • Non-helmet-wearing participants were more likely to sustain injuries (TBI, OTHI, and injuries to other body parts) than helmet-wearing participants.
  • When involved in a traumatic event, non-helmet-wearing participants had a greater risk of sustaining OTHI. However, the effect of helmet use on the risk of TBI (and concussion) was not significant.
  • Participants with low skill levels, those aged less than 16 and over 50 years, and snowboarders, were at higher risk of head injury. Collisions and accidents in a snow park were more likely to induce head injury than other traumatic incidents.

"The reduced risk of non- injury in helmet wearers was surprising because the helmet does not protect other parts of the body," commented Dr. Bailly. "This result suggests that helmet users take less risk than those who do not use helmets. This contradicts the 'risk compensation theory,' which implies that the perception of being protected by the helmet might lead people to take more risks. This study also poses important questions to the scientific community and to helmet manufacturers about how helmets can be improved to better protect from concussion."

Explore further: UAlberta expert dispels 5 persistent myths about helmet use

More information: Nicolas Bailly et al. Effect of Helmet Use on Traumatic Brain Injuries and Other Head Injuries in Alpine Sport, Wilderness & Environmental Medicine (2018). DOI: 10.1016/j.wem.2017.11.007

Related Stories

UAlberta expert dispels 5 persistent myths about helmet use

May 14, 2018
Helmets would be required by law for all Albertans using any equipment that moves at significant velocity—regardless of age—in an ideal world, contends Don Voaklander, director of the Injury Prevention Centre in the University ...

Research finds ski helmets lessens severity of injuries

February 27, 2017
New research from Children's Hospital Colorado (Children's Colorado) focused on helmet safety and injury prevention among young skiers and snowboarders. The research found that children who wear a helmet while skiing or snowboarding ...

Helmet use associated with reduced risk of cervical spine injury during motorcycle crashes

March 6, 2018
Despite claims that helmets do not protect the cervical spine during a motorcycle crash and may even increase the risk of injury, researchers from the University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics in Madison found that, during ...

Bicycle helmets prevent fatal head injuries

October 15, 2012
Cyclists who died of a head injury were three times as likely to not be wearing a helmet compared with those who died of other injuries, according to a study in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).

Recommended for you

Juul e-cigarettes pose addiction risk for young users, study finds

October 19, 2018
Teens and young adults who use Juul brand e-cigarettes are failing to recognize the product's addictive potential, despite using it more often than their peers who smoke conventional cigarettes, according to a new study by ...

Self-lubricating latex could boost condom use: study

October 17, 2018
A perpetually unctuous, self-lubricating latex developed by a team of scientists in Boston could boost the use of condoms, they reported Wednesday in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

Engineered enzyme eliminates nicotine addiction in preclinical tests

October 17, 2018
Scientists at Scripps Research have successfully tested a potential new smoking-cessation treatment in rodents.

Nutrition has a greater impact on bone strength than exercise

October 17, 2018
One question that scientists and fitness experts alike would love to answer is whether exercise or nutrition has a bigger positive impact on bone strength.

How healthy will we be in 2040?

October 17, 2018
A new scientific study of forecasts and alternative scenarios for life expectancy and major causes of death in 2040 shows all countries are likely to experience at least a slight increase in lifespans. In contrast, one scenario ...

Study finds evidence of intergenerational transmission of trauma among ex-POWs from the Civil War

October 16, 2018
A trio of researchers affiliated with the National Bureau of Economic Research has found evidence that suggests men who were traumatized while POWs during the U.S. Civil War transmitted that trauma to their offspring—many ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.