Skiers and Snowboarders Protected by Helmets Study Finds

A recent study compared the extent of head injury to skiers and snowboarders wearing a helmet with those who had not worn a helmet at the time of injury. The study was conducted on patients admitted to the hospital. The authors found that a reduced number of children suffered from skull fractures if they were wearing a helmet during an accident. Among the non-helmeted, about 37 percent suffered a skullcap fracture, while the number was only about 5 percent in those with helmets.

People injured during sports like skiing and snowboarding are known to make fewer visits to hospitals if they wore helmets at the time of their accident. Helmet use has been shown to reduce head injuries ranging from 15 percent to as much as 60 percent. It has also been known to reduce the number of medical evacuations required for skiers and snowboarders. However, the impact of helmet use on the extent of injury of those who reach the hospital has not been well documented. The authors planned to study how helmet use can affect injury patterns in patients as defined by CT scans of the head.

* A retrospective review of trauma registers from 2003 to 2009 was performed.
* Patients aged less than 21 years and admitted to two trauma centers in New England were included in the study.
* Only those patients whose helmet wearing status had been documented were considered.
* The authors studied records for skull fractures, spine injuries, need for surgery, ICU admission, length of stay, and death, if any.

Key Findings
* The researchers identified 71 adults and 57 children for the study.
* Detailed analysis was done on 57 patients, out of whom 33 percent were wearing a helmet and 67 percent were not wearing one at the time of injury.
* Among those wearing a helmet 5.3 percent had a fracture of the skull cap bones while 37 percent of those not wearing a helmet had such fractures.
* There were less chances of requiring neurosurgery if the patients were wearing helmets.

Next steps/Shortcomings
This was a retrospective study reviewing records of patients admitted in the past six years. The need is to conduct a study on patients as they reach the hospitals. Moreover, the number of patients examined was small. Replicating the study with a large number of patients across different centers may better substantiate the utility of wearing helmets.

The study showed that wearing a helmet during sports like skiing and snowboarding provides better protection to sportspersons. Among hospitalized patients, about 16 percent had fractures of the face or skull bone if they wore a helmet. Such fractures were about 45 percent in those who were not wearing a helmet at the time of sports. When data specific to fractures of the skull cap were studied, the difference became rather glaring. Among the helmeted, skull cap fractures were 5 percent, and among the non-helmeted similar fractures affected around 37 percent of patients. The incidence of cervical spine injuries was the same across both groups. People participating in sports like skiing and snowboarding need to be aware of the advantages of wearing helmets so that they can be protected from serious injuries during falls.

For More Information:
Helmet Use and Reduction in Skull Fractures in Skiers and Snowboarders Admitted to the Hospital
Journal of Neurosurgery: Pediatrics, March 2011
By Anand I. Rughani, MD; Chih-Ta Lin, MD; University of Vermont, Burlington

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.

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