Helmets save brains and spines, new study shows

February 9, 2011 - Injury Free Coalition for Kids of Baltimore

Motorcycle helmets can keep the brain safe, but Johns Hopkins researchers now say they also protect the spine too.

There has been a myth persisting for 25 years that wearing a helmet while riding causes spine injuries, said the study leader, It was based on a faulty study, he said, and helmets have only gotten lighter and sturdier since then.

And lobby groups have used it to help undo helmet laws. Just about every state used to require helmets forty years ago, but now only about 20 do.

But this new research “debunks” the myth, Haider says.

“Using this new evidence, legislators should revisit the need for mandatory helmet laws,” he said in a statement. “There is no doubt that helmets save lives and reduce head injury. And now we know they are also associated with a decreased risk of cervical spine injury.”

The new study, published online in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons, shows riders wearing helmets were 22 percent less likely to suffer a cervical spine injury – an injury that can result in paralysis. The data on more than 40,000 collisions between 2002 and 2006 came from the National Trauma Databank.

It also showed risk of traumatic brain injury for those wearing helmets dropped by 65 percent and odds of death decreased by 37 percent.

The journal article says motorcycle use has gone up sharply in the last decade, and injuries since 1997 have increased by about 5,000 a year. Fatalities have nearly doubled.


Dr. Adil H. Haider
Assistant Professor of Surgery
Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

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