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Hopkins Medicine Magazine - Don a Helmet Before Hitting the Slopes

Hopkins Medicine Winter 2013

Don a Helmet Before Hitting the Slopes

Date: February 1, 2013

Don a Helmet Before Hitting the Slopes

An avid skier, Hopkins trauma surgeon Adil H. Haider always wears a helmet when he skis—and so do all his family members. He believes it should be a universal practice. 

“There really is a great case to be made for wearing helmets,” says Haider, lead author of a recent study showing that the use of helmets by skiers and snowboarders decreases the risk and severity of head injuries and saves lives. “By increasing awareness and giving people scientific proof, we hope behavior changes will follow.”     

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 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 holds water.”

Statistics show that roughly 10 million Americans ski or snowboard each year in the United States, with approximately 600,000 injuries reported annually. Up to 20 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 and his team found in their detailed review of 16 published studies on injury in recreational skiers and snowboarders.

There are no laws in the United States mandating the use of helmets among recreational skiers and snowboarders. In Austria, children are legally required to wear helmets, and across Europe there are efforts to pass similar legislation.

The good news: Data from the 2009 to 2010 National Demographic Study done by the National Ski Areas Association, encompassing more than 130,000 interviews from across the United States, showed 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.  -Stephanie Desmon

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