Despite common misconceptions, helmets offer protection against brain and spine injuries

Jun 7 2011
Motorcycle crashes cause some of the most severe injuries that often necessitate a spine surgery and can lead to permanent disability.

Wearing a helmet might be considered an uncontroversial proposition, yet there has always been a debate in the public health and transportation safety community about the pros and cons of this approach. The main reasons for the disagreement were claims that the weight of such helmets may put a strain on the neck and spine of the rider and contribute to more serious injuries in the event of a crash.

As a results, several states, including Florida, Pennsylvania and Texas, scrapped laws requiring riders to always wear head protection gear.

However, a recent study may help put the controversy to an end, as a team of researchers from Johns Hopkins University announced that they have proof that helmets do in fact reduce the number of brain injuries and deaths following motorcycle accidents.

The investigators analyzed information from the National Trauma Databank, focusing on more than 40,000 motorcycle collisions between 2002 and 2006. They found that riders who wore a helmet at the time of their crash had a 65 percent lower chance of suffering a traumatic brain injury, and their odds of death were 37 percent lower.

Most importantly, the study - which appeared in the online edition of the Journal of the American College of Surgeons - discovered that the risk of cervical spine injury was 22 percent lower in those who wore helmets than in the riders who did not. This type of injury can be devastating as it often results in a permanent paralysis.

"We are debunking a popular myth that wearing a helmet while riding a motorcycle can be detrimental during a motorcycle crash," says Adil H. Haider, MD, MPH, an assistant professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who led the study.

He added that "using this new evidence, legislators should revisit the need for mandatory helmet laws."

The researchers also stressed that technological advancements mean that motorcycle helmets that are manufactured today are much lighter than they were 15 or 20 years ago, but are sturdier and offer better protection than before.

According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, more than 100,000 motorcycle accidents occurred on American roads in 2008, resulting in nearly 96,000 injuries and 5,000 fatalities.