Don’t hit the slopes without a helmet, experts warn

Don’t hit the slopes without a helmet, experts warn

By Karen Kaplan, Los Angeles Times

February 11, 2011, 3:44 p.m.

Professional skiers and snowboarders wear helmets. And if you don’t wear one too, you’re running out of excuses.

So say a trio of researchers from the University of Innsbruck’s Department of Sport Science in Austria. Writing in an editorial this week in the British Medical Journal, they weigh the pros (many) and cons (few) of wearing protective headgear on the slopes.

Emergency room doctors and ski patrol rescuers say that between 9% and 19% of skiing and snowboarding injuries are head injuries. What’s more, a report last year in the Canadian Medical Assn. Journal found that traumatic brain injury “is a leading cause of death among winter sports participants,” according to the editorial.

The researchers considered several arguments against wearing helmets and refuted them in turn. Here are their arguments:

Wearing a helmet will reduce my field of vision: A randomized, controlled study compared the average reaction time of people wearing ski helmets and people who wore plain old ski caps, and there was no difference between the two groups. (However, people who wore ski goggles had slower reaction times, suggesting that this popular piece of gear limits one’s visual field, and people don’t seem to mind too much about this.)

Wearing a helmet will entice skiers and snowboarders to take greater risks: If helmets give people a false sense of security about their safety, perhaps they will take risks that wind up making them worse off than they started, the theory goes. However, studies have shown that while risk-takers do travel faster on the slopes (33 miles per hour versus 28 mph in one study), skiers and snowboarders in both groups are equally likely to wear helmets (59.2% versus 59.7%). What’s more, skilled skiers were more likely to wear helmets, though skilled skiers who considered themselves risk-takers wore helmets at about the same rate (29.8%) as those who did not (30.2%).

Wearing a helmet will make it harder for me to hear another skier coming my way: In fact, one out of every 10 injuries involves a collision between multiple skiers (90% occur when skiers hit their heads on snow, trees or other fixed objects). In addition, a study last year in the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine found that while people wearing helmets could not hear the whoosh of a nearby skier or snowboarder, they had no trouble hearing voices, including warnings shouted by others.

Wearing a helmet will increase the risk of an injury to the cervical spine: This theory is put forward because the helmet increases the ratio of head-to-body weight, especially in children. But two studies published last year debunked this notion.

Need more convincing? The study from the Canadian Medical Assn. Journal found that skiers and snowboarders who wore helmets were 35% less likely to sustain a head injury than their helmet-less counterparts, and for kids younger than 13, the rate of head injuries was reduced by 59%.

By lok_admin • March 2, 2011 • 11:39 am

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