Keep­ing your head pro­tected with the help of hel­mets


Keep­ing your head pro­tected with the help of hel­mets

“For many recre­ational ac­tiv­i­ties, wear­ing a hel­met can re­duce the

risk of se­ri­ous head

in­jury and even save a



There was a time, not so long ago, when a child wear­ing a hel­met to ride a bike or play any sport other than the rec­og­nized “hel­met sports” like football and ice hockey would have been con­sid­ered odd. Thank­fully, in­creased aware­ness has sent those days pack­ing.

In New Jersey, it also helps that the “hel­met law” passed in 1998 makes their use manda­tory for bike rid­ers, skaters and skate­board­ers younger than 17. And if a fam­ily goes on a ski va­ca­tion, many re­sorts, in­clud­ing in­dus­try leader Vail in Colorado, re­quire them for chil­dren who take lessons or rent equip­ment.

Dr. Jef­frey Bien­stock, di­rec­tor of pe­di­atrics at The Val­ley Hos­pi­tal in Ridge­wood, has seen a dra­matic rise in the use of hel­mets for all sports dur­ing the past 25 years.

“For many recre­ational ac­tiv­i­ties,” he says, “wear­ing a hel­met can re­duce the risk of se­ri­ous head in­jury and even save a life.”

Ac­cord­ing to Bien­stock, two per­cent of mo­tor ve­hi­cle crash deaths are cy­clists. In a ma­jor­ity of th­ese deaths, the most se­ri­ous in­juries were to the head, high­light­ing the im­por­tance of wear­ing a bike hel­met. Hel­met use has been es­ti­mated to re­duce head in­jury risk by 85 per­cent.

“My prac­tice has seen chil­dren who have been in­volved in ac­ci­dents while not wear­ing hel­mets,” he says, “and when their hel­mets were at home or even hang­ing on the han­dle­bars of their bi­cy­cle. We have seen a sig­nif­i­cant in­crease in con­cus­sions in chil­dren play­ing football, base­ball and soft­ball, as well as lacrosse, even while wear­ing their hel­mets. How­ever, I be­lieve that their in­juries would have been more se­vere with­out a hel­met.”

An­other strong pro­po­nent of hel­met use is Dr. Arno Fried, chair­man of the Neu­ro­science In­sti­tute,

di­rec­tor of pe­di­atric neu­ro­surgery and di­rec­tor of the Com­pre­hen­sive Epilepsy Cen­ter at Hack­en­sack Univer­sity Med­i­cal Cen­ter.

“For some sports like ski­ing, football, lacrosse and hockey, they are es­sen­tial,” Fried says. “You can, of course, get a con­cus­sion even with a hel­met, but they can help pre­vent more se­ri­ous in­juries such as hematomas and swelling of the brain.”

At HUMC, there are fre­quent health fairs for fam­i­lies and sym­posiums for doc­tors about safety.

“It is our job,” Bien­stock says, “to re­mind par­ents that they serve as role mod­els to their chil­dren, and that if par­ents wear hel­mets, their chil­dren are more likely to also.”

Bien­stock has worn a hel­met to ski for more than 15 years. He notes that hel­met use among skiers and snow­board­ers has in­creased steadily in re­cent years, with about 40 per­cent of in­di­vid­u­als now wear­ing a hel­met.

“Un­for­tu­nately, in the event of a high-speed col­li­sion,” he says, “the forces in­volved usu­ally far ex­ceed the pro­tec­tive ca­pa­bil­i­ties of even the best ski hel­met.”

Bien­stock also notes that hel­mets are es­sen­tial for skate­board­ers and rollerbladers.

“Skate­board­ing is a spe­cial risk for young chil­dren,” he says, “be­cause they have a higher cen­ter of grav­ity, less de­vel­op­ment, and poorer bal­ance with slower re­ac­tions and less co­or­di­na­tion than adults.”

Prob­a­bly the most con­tro­versy about hel­met use and chil­dren re­volves around soc­cer. United States Youth Soc­cer cur­rently pro­hibits their use. Ac­cord­ing to its web­site: “Al­though the player wear­ing the head­gear is pro­tected, he may play in a phys­i­cally more ag­gres­sive man­ner than oth­ers not pro­tected, thereby be­com­ing a dan­ger to oth­ers.”

Nei­ther Fried nor Bien­stock is a soc­cer hel­met or headband pro­po­nent.

“My feel­ing,” Fried says, “is that hel­mets are prob­a­bly not needed for soc­cer, since the in­ci­dence of se­ri­ous head in­jury from soc­cer is very low. We have to re­mem­ber that any sport can cause a se­ri­ous in­jury. There is no an­swer to pre­vent some in­juries in rare cases, with or with­out a hel­met.”

Bien­stock says the United States Soc­cer Fed­er­a­tion’s sports medicine com­mit­tee has re­viewed a great deal of sci­en­tific lit­er­a­ture re­lat­ing to head in­juries in soc­cer and the safety ben­e­fits of padded head­gear.

“Soc­cer head­bands have shown no ben­e­fit re­gard­ing con­cus­sion,” he says. “De­spite the man­u­fac­tur­ers’ hype on their web­sites, they of­fer no ev­i­dence-based peer re­viewed re­search. They might re­duce get­ting fore­head goose-eggs from con­tu­sions of bump­ing heads, but there is no ev­i­dence for con­cus­sion re­duc­tion or mit­i­ga­tion.”

“There are in­her­ent risks in all ac­tiv­ity that we have to take,” Fried says. “No one wears a hel­met to drive, even though the most com­mon cause of deaths in car ac­ci­dents is head in­juries.”

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