No Excuses, Helmets Do Save Life of Skiers and Snowboarders

First Posted: Nov 12, 2012 04:04 AM EST

Reinforcing the advocacy groups and the authorities all over the world, a new study by the Johns Hopkins-led research suggests that the use of helmets by skiers and snowboarders decreases the risk and severity of head injuries and saves lives.

Since there are no laws in the United States mandating the use of helmets among recreational skiers and snowboarders, this study highlights the need for having such a law in order to keep the enthusiast safe and protected.

According to the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) during the past 10 years, about 40 people have died skiing or snowboarding per year on average. During the 2009-10 season, 38 fatalities occurred.

"There really is a great case to be made for wearing helmets," says Adil H. Haider, M.D., M.P.H., an associate professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the leader of the study.

The team has produced a statistics that clearly state that roughly 10 million Americans ski or snowboard each year in the United States, with approximately 600,000 injuries reported annually. Up to twenty percent of those are head injuries, which mostly occur when skiers or snowboarders hit inanimate objects such as trees or the ground. Twenty-two percent of those head injuries are severe enough to cause loss of consciousness or concussion or even worse injuries. Often the injured were not wearing helmets.

Haider notes that these head injuries lead to hospitalization, death or long-term disability, and contribute to increase in health care spending.

The chief cause of death among skiers and snowboarders is head injury.

Working on the Injury Control and Violence Prevention Committee at the Eastern Association for the Surgery of Trauma, Haider and his colleagues searched the medical literature and reviewed in detail 16 published studies on injury in recreational skiers and snowboarders. On doing so they noticed that helmets are lifesavers and do not increase the risk of injury. As a result of this study, the Eastern Association for the Surgery of Trauma now recommends all skiers and snowboarders wear helmets.

Data from 2009 to 2010 National Demographic Study of the National Ski Areas Association encompassing more than 130,000 interviews from across the United States, shows that ski helmet use is on the rise.

Overall, some 57 percent of skiers and snowboarders wore helmets during the 2009-2010 ski season, compared with 25 percent during the 2002-2003 ski season. 

Haider says, "Some skiers have long argued that wearing a helmet on the slopes lowers visibility, hampers the ability to hear what is going on around them and encourages risky behavior, because they feel invincible. Some skiers have also suggested that wearing a helmet increases the torque and whiplash felt when a skier does go down, making neck and cervical spine injury more likely."

"These are all just excuses," Haider says. "Our research shows none of those theories hold water."

The study that is published in the November issue of the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery was supported by the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of General Medical Sciences and the American College of Surgeons' C. James Carrico Fellowship for the Study of Trauma and Critical Care.

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