Don't Be a Hard Head!

Serious head injuries less likely while wearing a helmet on ski slopes

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Hitting the slopes shouldn't involve hitting your head. Though helmets may be bulky and make hearing more difficult, wearing one can protect your noggin and your life.

Donning a helmet while skiing and snowboarding lowers the chance of getting a serious head injury, despite the idea it provides a false sense of security according to researchers.

"Policies and interventions directed toward increasing and promoting helmet use should be promoted to reduce mortality and head injury in recreational skiers and snowboarders," researchers report.

"Always wear a helmet."

Across the US, about 600,000 injuries happen while skiing and snowboarding, with 20 percent involving the head. The aim of the study, led by Adil Haider, MD, MPH, associate professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, was to see how safe and useful helmets are during skiing and snowboarding.

Researchers reviewed 16 studies published between January 1980 and April 2011 that covered head, neck and spinal cord injuries. The studies also looked at whether risky behavior was involved and the number of deaths.

Researchers found that wearing helmets lowered the number and severity of head injuries among both recreational snowboarders and skiers.

One particular study they looked at showed that not wearing a helmet increased the odds of getting injured almost five-fold among snowboarders.

In other studies, helmet use reduced the risk of getting a head injury by 29 percent in Canada and 15 percent in the US. In a Norwegian study, the risk of getting a bruise, fracture or severe injury to the head decreased 60, 53, and 57 percent respectively.

“There really is a great case to be made for wearing helmets,” Dr. Haider said in a press release.

“By increasing awareness and giving people scientific proof, we hope behavior changes will follow.”

Wearing a helmet does not cause the wearer to take more risks or increase the number of injuries to the spine or neck.

"The use of safety helmets also does not seem to increase the risk of compensation behavior as compared with non-helmeted participants in skiing and snowboarding," the authors wrote in their report.

"Therefore, helmets are strongly recommended during recreational skiing and snowboarding."

Although helmet use is not required in the US, the number of people wearing them is going up. During the 2009-2010 season, more than half of all skiers and snowboarders wore helmets.

The authors noted that the included studies had varying definitions of injury to the neck, spine and head, which may have skewed results. And each study involved slightly different measures.

The National Institute of General Medical Sciences from the National Institutes of Health and the American College of Surgeons funded the study, which was published in the November 2012 issue of the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 15, 2012
Last Updated:
May 7, 2013